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Two strikes for OMERS over pension cuts and union busting

During two telephone town halls on May 12, thousands of angry OPSEU members joined Thomas to denounce OMERS CEO Michael Latimer for his heartless cuts to retirees’ pensions, and also for allowing a company owned by the plan – Life Labs – to brutally quash a union drive. To rub salt in the wound, OMERS isn’t even waiting for the COVID-19 pandemic to end before pushing through the pension changes.

“That’s two big strikes – he should be out,” said Thomas. “Roughly 20,000 OPSEU members and affiliates are members of OMERS, and they’re livid that their hard-earned pensions are being cut while, at the same time, it’s doing nothing to stop LifeLabs from union-busting.”

“It’s a double disgrace. Both OMERS and LifeLabs need new CEOs. Now.”

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas and First Vice-President Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida socially distanced during the OMERS telephone town hall.
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas and First Vice-President Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida socially distanced during the OMERS telephone town hall.

Under cover of the pandemic, the plan managers are planning to vote in June on a proposal to strip OMERS pension members of guaranteed annual raises tied to inflation. 

“As OPSEU’s Treasurer, I can tell you that inflation takes a big bite – especially when you add it up over 10 or 20 years,” said OPSEU First Vice-President / Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida. “If OMERS stops paying inflation raises to its plan members, it’s the same as giving them a pay cut.” 

“The plan is in decent financial shape – it’s a low blow to cut peoples’ pensions like this. It’s an even lower blow to do it right now, in the middle of the pandemic, when plan members can’t easily fight back against the cuts.”

At the same time that Latimer and the rest of the OMERS managers are doing everything they can to cut members’ pensions, they’re doing absolutely nothing to stop the exploitation and union-busting that’s going on at LifeLabs, a company the plan owns.

“There are roughly 1,000 experienced, professional, and dedicated medical lab techs working for LifeLabs in and around Toronto,” said Thomas. “They’ve always been vital to our health care system, and they’re especially vital right now as they help test for COVID-19.”

“They deserve to be treated with respect and gratitude. Instead, they’re being treated with disdain.”

Thomas recorded this video about the situation at OMERs and LifeLabs:

On May 13, OPSEU made sure that the leaders at OMERS would see it by playing it on a multimedia van that circled OMERS headquarters in downtown Toronto:

After a group of LifeLabs workers in the Simcoe area joined OPSEU in 2017, the company’s managers formed “SWAT teams” to stop the lab techs in Toronto from joining.

LifeLabs managers sit with the lab techs during lunches and breaks to prevent them from talking about unionizing.

They’re no longer even allowed to go to the washroom at the same time.

And in March, just as the pandemic was throwing the province into chaos, LifeLabs tried to fire one of its lab techs. A racialized woman with more than 30 years of experience, she had positive work reviews and no disciplines before she started talking openly about joining OPSEU.

“Clearly, LifeLabs is rotten at the top. And it all starts with the CEO, Charles Brown,” said Thomas.

Before coming to LifeLabs, Brown had zero experience in health care. Not long after he’d started, he let hackers access the medical information of up to 15-million Canadians.  

And now, he’s failing to provide the PPEs and social distancing that his workers need to be safe from COVID-19.  

“Good grief, Charlie Brown,” said Thomas. “Can’t you do anything right?”

Thomas said it’s time for the more half-million members of OMERS to send a clear message: it’s time for both Latimer and Brown to go.

“The members of OMERS know that they earned their pension by working hard on the front-lines, and that they deserve every penny they’re owed,” said Thomas. 

“They also know that the reason they even have a pension is because of strong unions. They’re not going to stand for this kind of exploitation and union-busting at a company they own.

“For goodness sakes, LifeLabs is owned by a pension plan but doesn’t offer its workers a pension of their own! It’s time for change. Now.”