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Winnipeg police union warns of legal actions, officer retirements after pension changes

Winnipeg police officers attend city council meeting for vote on changes to police pension
WATCH: Winnipeg police spokesperson Const. Rob Carver responds to media questions after a large number of police officers attend a city council meeting where changes to the police pension come to a vote.

Winnipeg’s city council voted to amend the Winnipeg Police Service’s pension plan — a move it says will keep millions in city coffers.

The police union, however, now warns of legal challenges ahead and waves of senior officer retirements.

“Its not whether its a platinum-plated pension or not… its whether they can or can’t do this and unfortunately their decision is placing the taxpayers at huge risk,” Winnipeg Police Association president Maurice Sabourin told reporters following the vote.

READ MORE: Winnipeg police union opposes changes to pension plan; city says would save millions

City hall’s viewing galleries overflowed with retired and active police officers and their families while Sabourin and Kelly Dennison, president of the Winnipeg Police Senior Officers’ Association, gave delegations to council in the lead-up to the vote.

Council voted seven-to-nine in favour of amending the plan. Police will no longer be able to file overtime as pensionable earnings and officers’ individual contributions to the plan will increase to 11.5 per cent from 8 per cent over five years.

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Other civic pension plans don’t allow overtime to be banked as pensionable earnings.

The city’s contribution to the plan will be cut from 18.5 per cent to 11.5 per cent over the same period. The city will also amend early retirement provisions — a given pension will be reduced if the officer retires before age 55, or age 60 if they worked for the service for fewer than 20 years.

The initial council motion dictated the changes begin on Jan. 1, 2020, but a motion filed by St. Norbert-Seine Coun. Markus Chambers earlier this week pushed the date forward to April 1.

However, the main police union — the Winnipeg Police Association — has already filed a grievance and plans to take the matter to arbitration.

READ MORE: Winnipeg police union files grievance over city’s proposed changes to pension plan

“[The city] has an in-house legal opinion that says that they can unilaterally change the pension plan,” Sabourin said.

“I feel very confident we are going to be moving forward with an injunction and moving forward to an arbitrator.”

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About 200 senior police officers are eligible for retirement, Sabourin said. He thinks some will retire before the changes take effect.

Chambers’ motion also recommends reinvesting the pension savings — approximately $14.7 million over 2020-2023 — into the police budget to avoid losing officers amid a tough budget year.

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READ MORE: ‘Basically, we’ve run out of money’: University of Winnipeg prof on city budget drama

The WPS proposed a reduction of 34 sworn officers and 25 cadets over four years to meet a two per cent budget cap at a meeting earlier this month. It estimates the move will save the force $14.7 million over the four-year budget.

However, St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes said its dangerous to spend money the city doesn’t actually have — and noted council isn’t able to dictate how the Winnipeg Police Board spends any money it receives.

“We are taking [$14.7 million] and we’re not putting it in a bank account until the litigation gets sorted out, we’re now saying ‘Let’s go spend it’,” Mayes said.

“Without a negotiated settlement, there’s a large element of risk.”

Mayes noted he’s personally in favour of reforming the police pension plan, but doesn’t support how it was amended at the Thursday council meeting. He voted against the changes.

Mayor Brian Bowman and Couns. Matt Allard (St. Boniface), Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan), Scott Gillingham (St. James) Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre), Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River), Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry), Janice Lukes (Waverly West), and John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry), voted in favour of the pension plan amending motion.

Couns. Kevin Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood), Jason Schreyer (Elmwood-East Kildonan), Brian Mayes (St. Vital), Vivian Santos (Point Douglas), Ross Eadie (Mynarski), Shawn Nason (Transcona), and Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan) voted against the motion.