March 29, 2009
Unionized workers pay for their pensions

The ailing economy sees various right wing media manipulating public opinion against unions and unionized workers, particularly
statements that, as one example, "costly pension plans" are at the root of the problem.

A recent letter to the Sun Media chain from a reader concerning an article by Sun Media columnist Greg Weston ("Deal by GM, union
fails to impress” - March 10) on the deal reached between the CAW and General Motors (GM) sets Weston straight.  In his March 10,
2009 column, Weston wrote that the federal and Ontario governments
“have been demanding the unions take a tire-iron to their gold-
plated employment contracts before GM gets a dime from taxpayers.”
 He further added; “It is worth noting that unionized GM employees
do not contribute a dime to their pensions during their working lives.  We would also note that at a time when the car companies are
asking for billions, the GM pension fund is short, um, billions.”

Weston closed his column with: “Their pay and pensions stay the same.  They lose a spa week (special paid absence), and give their
Christmas bonus to the oldtimers.  They have to pay a bit more for daycare and a divorce, and $30 a month for a benefits package to
strike for.  Hold the hankies.”

Typical right wing arrogance and complete ignorance!  Its funny how right wing media types attack ordinary workers, particularly
those who are represented by unions, for gains they have made by collective bargaining, suggesting that they must throw their
legal binding contracts away and renegotiate due to the mess created by wealthy conglomerates.  But they don’t appear to expect
the same from those who have reaped millions from years of ripping people off (Wall Street, Bay Street and big business types).  
“Their bonuses are part of their contracts, how can we expect they give those up!”  

They defend big banks and corporate executives, but chastise ordinary working Canadians and Americans for what they have
negotiated as gains, which are enormously pale in comparison to what the corporate elite have given themselves.  Even the
politicians (federal, provincial and civic) who are free to vote themselves pay raises and pensions or RRSPs that are well beyond
what ordinary workers and their unions are able to negotiate.   

Here is the letter submitted to a Sun Media editor by a Mr. Frank Taylor, RR 1, Lakefield, Ontario:

GM workers paid for their pensions  
Re "Deal by GM, union fails to impress" (Column, March 10)

Reading Greg Weston's comments make me sad people like him are so uninformed about unions and collective agreements and
think we should return to the days of only two classes of citizens, the very rich and the very poor.

The hourly rated employees in General Motors have negotiated contracts since 1937, which in turn helped change previous working
conditions like child labour, 12-hour work days, forced 72- hour work weeks, indiscriminate layoffs of employees regardless of their
service to the company and health and safety, just to name a few.

Among these negotiated provisions were pensions which were negotiated in lieu of wages: ergo the unionized employees have
contributed to their pensions by virtue of them taking monies off their hourly rate and entrusting General Motors to put these
monies into a pension fund.  These pension monies belong to the retirees and if there isn't enough money in the pension fund for
retirees then General Motors it to blame.

To make it simpler for Mr. Weston to understand maybe he can equate it to our government taking money off Canadians for the
purpose of having a Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security pension.  If the government doesn't put this money into the pension
fund and spends it on something else then it has misappropriated the funds.

In some modern companies employees put a certain amount of their own money into an RRSP and the company matches that
amount, which is that employee's retirement fund.  Under Mr. Weston's line of thinking these employees should pay back their
employer's share of these contributions to the company if that company falls on hard times.

If Mr. Weston thinks he is the only person who deserves the salary he is getting then perhaps it's time for him to come down out of
his ivory tower and realize that it wasn't ordinary, hardworking Canadians (unionized or not) that created this recession but rather
it was unfettered capitalism and corporate greed.

Frank Taylor