Here's what's at stake for employees involved in the Co-op Refinery labour dispute
REGINA -- Carla McCrie has been walking the picket line with her fellow locked out workers for 50 days during their labour dispute with the Co-op Refinery Complex.
The Unifor Local 594 members are fighting to keep their defined benefits pension plan in place
"The DB part of the plan is actually worth more than the rest of the 20 years that I’d have to pay into a [defined contribution plan], so it's hundreds of thousands of dollars that I don't have time to make up,” McCrie said.
McCrie has worked at the refinery for 15 years. She says she chose to work there coming out of school because of the defined benefit pension plan being offered.
"There was opportunities everywhere at that time and I chose to stay here in Regina because they had this gold plated pension plan, it's something that I discussed with my parents as to if this was a good thing or not and they said this is what you need to do,” McCrie said.
Co-op is proposing two options for refinery employees – one, they stay on the current defined benefit pension plan, but begin contributing to it, or two, they switch to a defined contribution plan, which would see the company and employee contribute funds.
"The major difference between those two pensions is who carries the risk,” said Jason Childs, Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Regina. “In a defined benefit pension plan, the employer and future employees carry all the risk, so if the stock market tanks, it doesn’t effect your income if your on a defined benefit pension plan. In a defined contribution plan, the retiree carries all the risk.”
Childs says because of that risk, defined benefit pension plans are disappearing around the country.
"Two things happened that made those plans not sustainable anymore – one, they weren't getting the stock market returns they were expecting, they were expecting to be able to earn seven, nine, ten per cent a year, every year via stock returns, that's just not happening any more, the other thing that happened is people started living longer,” Childs said.
Unifor announced on Thursday that they are willing to negotiate on the defined benefit pension plan, but unwilling to accept the plan proposed by Co-op.
Co-op stated it won't return to the bargaining table until Unifor ends its blockade at the Refinery.