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Mill retirees updated on pension fund

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Seniors Retirees Against Pension and Elder Abuse (SRAPEA) executive officers spoke to a full house at the Sister Kennedy Centre last Wednesday evening regarding serious issues dealing with Resolute Forest Products Ltd. pension fund deficits and the federal budget cuts affecting the Old Age Supplement.

In attendance was John Rafferty, our federal Member of Parliament who spoke clearly to both issues, identifying the serious issues surround the Legislative failure to protect our pension funds and the similar circumstances faced by Nortel workers.

Most participants attending this very serious meeting were shocked to hear of the financial status of their pension fund and committed quickly to take whatever action necessary to prevent any further cuts to their pension cheques received by them each month.

Chairman Allan T. Bedard, along with first vice-president Gordy Bell, second vice-president Nick Wihnan and MP John Rafferty walke those in attendance through the pension deficit process, explaining to them the full impact of Resolute Forest Products Ltd. abysmal record of handling the workers’ pension plans, connected benefits and funds within the plan.

Their message rang out clear and loud: “Your pension could be cut, wound up, or even terminated, as a result of a severe declining pension solvency issue happening right now within our pension fund.”

Resolute Forest Products Ltd. have not met their minimum pension solvency levels under the funding relief regulations, thus the plan has fallen to a solvency level of 69.4 percent or less.

This means we are at least $1.9 billion to $2.5 billion dolars short of the requirement needed in cash to meet the full solvency levels required by the plan if our pension cheques are to continue at the pension benefit levels earned by each pensioner.

In order for the pension fund to meet appropriate solvency levels, just to survive, an immediate cash infusion of 500-600 million dollars is needed immediately.

Resolute Forest Products Ltd., in a recent letter to all retirees and surviving spouses, advised “they have no intention of terminating the pension plan.”

They also state: “However, if it were to become necessary to terminate the pension plan while it has a pension solvency deficiency, then your pension benefits would be reduced.”

The seriousness of the moment hit home with those present. They were upset, angered, with the fact they worked a lifetime and paid 25, 30, 40 years faithfully into their pension plan.

Every pay period their own money went into their pension plan, expecting to retire, live off their pension income, for the rest of their lives.

Finding out this may not be the case angered now that they understood their pension savings, lifelong retirement plan was vaporizing before their very eyes.

It was stressed that complacency was not the answer. It was time to fight back, to pursue whatever avenues had to be pursued, to protect our pension funds, and to hold those accountable for this mess and their loss of due diligence towards this fund, accountable.

It was stressed that our outdated, discriminatory laws permit elder abuse to happen and, as such, these must be changed.

Everyone signed a petition which will be forwarded to the appropriate parties for change, as well as volunteering to actively participate in the SRAPEA initiatives to address this very serious issue.

Chairman Bedard expressed the federal and provincial government have defined, developed elder abuse programs that address the theft of seniors’ money and property by your children and other individuals.

The government came out and stressed how wrong and corrupt elder abuse is. Yet the greatest theft of our money is committed by government-endorsed legislation that permits these companies and their CEOs to abuse the pension funds of its senior retired workers.

“This is clearly, ladies and gentlemen, elder abuse by and from our own government,” said Bedard.

What was stressed at this meeting was the fact that the retirees and surviving spouses have not been included by Resolute Forest Products Ltd. or the Communications Energy & Paperworkers Union in their closed door negotiations, not included in any discussions, not allowed to participate, not consulted, not advised of the serious ramifications of a deal that may have dealt a death blow to all AbitibiBowater—now Resolute—retiree pensions.

Over 17,000 retirees and surviving spouses lost their cost of living adjustments and now face major cuts in their pensions.

When retirees in Fort Frances realized their pensions had been altered, they asked the mill unions who helped negotiate these cuts to meet with the seniors, they never showed up and refused to meet with us to this day.

It is clear 17,000 retirees, for the first time to our knowledge in Canadian history, were severed away from the unions they led or served for almost a hundred years in cases. Fort Frances is an example.

There is a strong commitment to move forward and continued the fight.

More activity is prepared to do that and it starts more aggressively tomorrow.

Our federal MP John Rafferty and our MPP Sarah Campbell both pledge their full support to help correct the injustice against seniors’ pensions and will help in any way they can to promote the legislative changes necessary to meet that end.

Before adjourning the meeting, John Rafferty spoke to the cuts that will hurt seniors which are coming to Old Age Supplement (OAS) as a result of the federal budget announced by the Harper government.

Although these cuts are transitional, they were not necessary and the funding issue by the federal government was not an issue.

Mr. Rafferty stated all the actuaries, accountants, made it clear “there was not, is not, a funding issue.”

There was absolutely no solid reason, other than politics, to remove these benefits from our seniors who paid for and depend on these benefits.

What will happen, hopefully, if the government is voted out of office before these cuts take place again hopefully, is the new government will correct this serious injury to all seniors.

John stressed there will be many single, low-income women who will have to endure significant poverty for two more years because of this move. There is also concern with the generational disparity it will cause between seniors today and their adult children retiring down the road.

Moving the age of qualifying for the OAS to age 67 from age 65 is totally wrong, especially when these benefits were paid for over many years and promises of entitlement are now being broken.

SRAPEA executives were happy with the turnout and the direction they are going. They are committed to their cause and swear that this type of government-tolerated, corporate-driven elder abuse will not be tolerated.

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