Conciliation begins with NSGEU

Two days of talks scheduled with union

- July 12, 2011

Shot of Dalhousie campus
Shot of Dalhousie campus

Today, Dalhousie and NSGEU begin two days of conciliation in labour negotiations.

“The conciliation process is an opportunity for the university and the union to work with a neutral third party to help us move forward on resolving our outstanding issues. We are confident that we can make progress with the assistance of a conciliator,” says Katherine Sheehan, AVP Human Resources at Dalhousie. “There are a number of outstanding issues that have not yet been addressed by the parties at the bargaining table.”

On July 11, Dalhousie’s NSGEU members voted in favour of a strike with 87.5 per cent support. Of the 825 Local 77 members, 730 (90 per cent) cast their ballot. Local 77 membership includes clerical, secretarial and technical workers at Dalhousie.

The vote, however, does not automatically mean a strike will occur. While the vote provides a strike mandate, a number of steps must occur prior to any labour action. A conciliator has been appointed, at the request of NSGEU, by the Department of Labour and Advanced Education to assist with the negotiation process. Based on the progress as assessed by the conciliator, more talks can be scheduled.

In a release from NSGEU, the pension issue was cited as a key factor in the outcome. The release indicated that increased employee contributions would cut take-home pay by five per cent.

“With conciliation underway it is premature to discuss total compensation, including pension costs.” says Ms. Sheehan. “The university’s priority is to have a sustainable, defined benefit pension plan for all employees. To do this, a new governance structure is required. We cannot come to any conclusion on the cost of this until we agree on a new governance model. We are asking all of our employee groups to work with us to come up with the best model. A jointly-sponsored plan has the potential to lower plan funding requirements overall.”

Like many institutions across the country, resolving pension governance is a priority for Dalhousie. A sustainable defined benefit pension plan, managed jointly, will benefit all employees and the university by providing the ability to work together to manage the pension benefits in a more sustainable way.

“Moving forward, we will continue to work hard to achieve an acceptable agreement and avoid any disruption,” says Ms. Sheehan.

Link: Pension Plan website (with Q&As)

Link: Investment Committee Report

Update (July 14)

Yesterday, technical issues required us to close commenting on all Dal News stories. We could not guarantee that all comments were being properly reviewed or even posted at all. We apologize for the inconvenience and are pleased that our web team were able to restore our comment feature as quickly as possible. You can read more on the outage here.

Just prior to the issue, Katherine Sheehan, AVP of Human Resources, was planning to post a response to the discussion. Her contribution was printed below, and we have also added it to the story's comments.
- Editor

From: Katherine Sheehan, AVP, Human Resources

We appreciate the many comments that employees have posted about the pension plan. However, there are a few points that should be clarified.

  • The pension plan is part of an employee’s total compensation, and has significant monetary implications.  The pension plan is also referenced in some of the collective agreements. This is why it is being discussed as part of the collective agreement process with each of the employee groups, not just NSGEU.
  • More than two years ago the university started the discussion on pension sustainability with all of the employee groups with the goal of having a sustainable defined benefit pension plan into the future for employees. At that time it was suggested that this was a bargaining issue and we would not be able to come to any conclusion without it being part of that process. The university has brought the matter to the employee groups as a proposed joint side table of collective bargaining.
  • The past pension deficit, resulting from the increasing liabilities and the crash of the global economy, is being funded by the university.
  • We are asking employee groups to work with us to change the current pension governance structure so that we can sustain the defined benefit pension plan. It is also important to note the changes that are taking place in pension legislation throughout Canada. This is not just a Dalhousie issue. The recognition of jointly sponsored pension plans as a sustainable model is growing across the country.
  • Investment information can be found in the Investment Committee Report. The university’s two pension funds have met and exceeded their respective return targets over the last 15 years. However, the plan is currently in a deficit position. Improving mortality rates, lower interest rates, and use of previous surpluses for benefit enhancements are part of the challenge. Contribution holidays and surplus distributions, all agreed to by the Pension Advisory Committee and required by law, also contributed to the deficit.
  • The provincial pension plan is now fully funded. This happened because the province put $500 million into the plan, our tax dollars, and the employee groups also agreed to reductions in the benefit.  Employees in that plan contribute approximately 11% in contributions.
  • To read more Q&As about pension please visit the HR website (particularly Q4-Q7).


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