Recent changes to the IWA Forest Industry Pension Plan have promoted former forest industry workers to take action.
Earlier this year the IWA sent a notice to former workers who have broken service with the pension plan stating they would be eliminating the workers’ remaining commuted value payment balance (calculated by an actuary), effective March 1, 2014.
For several former forestry workers, this means the elimination of nearly 50 per cent of their promised pension—a balance that was meant to be transferred to the former employee five years after the original deposit.
“They only gave me half of it,” said Dennis Lightburn.
“They robbed me of early retirement.”
The former employees were told by the IWA that they had two options: to transfer the first portion of their funded pension benefit elsewhere, forgoing their promised remaining balance, or to leave the pension in the plan until they elect to receive the full balance, without interested, upon retirement.
But many expressed concerns about putting money back in to the plan.
“I would really want to encourage other people not to put it back in there…,” Stephen P. Thacker said.
Dean Haarstad, who only received 60 per cent of his commuted value, said he is skeptical to take the second option too.
“My problem is, it is going to be there in 15 years? I’m guessing probably not. There’s going to have to be some major changes the way things are going.”
He went on to say, “I gave them basically my youth (27 years of service)…and now they’re taking away my retirement. It kind of makes you feel sick to your stomach sometimes.”
Since receiving the IWA notice, the three men, along with several other former employees who broke service with the pension plan, have sought legal council.
“(I wanted to) find out whether they can legally do this or not,” Lightburn said.
“It’s not like a fair thing where everyone gets nailed 10 per cent. It’s a select group of people I guess they would consider an easy target (IWA member who broke service).”
But the IWA’s legal council Petra VanderLey said the IWA’s amendment was completely legal, with trustees receiving legal council throughout and the amendment being approved by the company’s superintendent.
“The process was done legally and we followed all the steps and procedures but when people are upset they still want to see if there’s something they can do and we understand that,” she said.
“These plan amendments arrived after much consultation with the actuaries and trustees going through a number of different scenarios.”
She went on to say, “The plan doesn’t have enough money, to put it in simple word.”
VenderLey said the company is going through what is referred to as a solvency deficiency.
But former forestry employees plan to fight the IWA nonetheless.
“There’s a lot of people that broke their backs building that union and supporting that union,” Thacker said.
“(It’s) nothing short of thievery.”