To honour Sesame Street, the following words are brought to you by the letter "P". That is "P" for pensions, prorogation and most of all politics. And have we ever seen a lot of these in past weeks, sisters and brothers!
The first "P" was for pensions. Public sector pensions are a front for bitter right-wing attacks. We"ve heard the battle cry: "Regular families don"t have a pension so why should our lazy bureaucrats have a gold-plated one?"
The answer is simple. Public workers pay for their pensions from their earnings. Instead of getting their compensation paid out as wages they"ve bargained a pension plan. This is why public sector pay is not as high as many think. The average OPSEU member earns about $45,000 per year. Decent, yes — gold-plated, hardly!
After 35 years of service the average public service pension is about $30,000 a year. Pensions aren"t a gift from the employer or the taxpayer. They aren"t a drag on the economy. They are not gold-plated.
Public sector workers have families. They pay taxes. They purchase goods and services in the community. They also perform some of the most difficult jobs around.
It is important to note that thousands of OPSEU members remain without a pension. When pensions are proposed at bargaining, the employer says no. This employer response denies access to a dignified retirement. Many employers see a worker as a liability, not an asset. Workers are just another commodity required for production. To increase profits it is best to drain the last bit of energy from them at work and then dispatch them to a retirement of poverty. Profits and executive salaries trump the interests of working people every time.
To illustrate the current attacks, I"ll point to the federal Conservative"s new omnibus budget implementation bill. Concealed in a provision that requires MPs to pay a larger share for their truly gold-plated pensions is a clause that forces newly-hired federal employees to work until 65 while raising their share of pension contributions. This amounts to a two-tiered pension plan.
This shameful attack on pensions comes through the blunt force of legislation. While corporate profits hit peaks and companies retain their wealth in bank accounts, government mounts attacks on those who work to build safe communities and civil society. Past generations and many current Canadians recognized that pensions are a national program that keeps millions out of poverty at retirement. Yet now, with the stroke of the Governor General"s pen on this omnibus budget implementation bill, the opposite will begin to happen.
The next "P" is for prorogation. This shut down of parliament "locks out the opposition." In unions we know who is attacking during a lockout. In a 21st century Ontario we see actions best suited to the distant past, when the local baron pulled up his castle drawbridge when the peasants got restless. Now we have a Premier who has retained his powers and is collecting his salary while refusing to do his job.
He is not totally asleep though. His government keeps issuing pink slips to hard-working front-line public sector workers as he promises to "protect the public service."
He even has the audacity to claim that unions are the cause of the prorogation. Huh? Premier, OPSEU members go to work every day. They protect communities and provide needed public services. They just hope to exercise their right to bargain fair terms and conditions of employment, one contract at a time. I suggest you do the same.
This strategy of blaming unions for the prorogation of the Legislature plays into the hands of the Hudak Tories. With little substance in their political policy papers, Hudak will proclaim that unions are so powerful they caused the shut-down of Queen"s Park. Nothing is farther from the truth!
Finally, we have the last "P" for politics. The Liberals are in big trouble. They are the poster kids for mismanagement. They smell of corruption. They have failed to maintain the trust they were given by voters. By resigning, the Premier ran back into his castle and pulled up the drawbridge. With a non-confidence motion coming, he thought he had nowhere else to go.
Unions didn"t prorogue parliament any more than they caused the 2008 financial meltdown. Unions will continue to fight for pensions and a dignified retirement for Ontario"s workers. Unions will also continue to fight for democratic rights including the right to free collective bargaining; the right to have a government that can be held accountable in the legislature; the right for people to be part of an economy that does not rob one group to enrich another; and the right to a prosperous, fair and equitable Ontario.
Even against the political efforts of our government to blame unions for every ill, we will soldier on. As for McGuinty and his Liberal government, I have one last "P". That "P" is for pitiful.
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
First Vice-President/Treasurer, OPSEU