Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Porter Air, Pension Funds, and Invisible Strikers

Many years ago, in the midst of my teaching career, there was a movement by a group of us to try to get the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan to divest itself from Maple Leaf Foods when it was in the process of reducing its workers' wages in Burlington by about one-third, the threat being that if they didn't get their way, they would close the facility, as they had earlier done in Edmonton.

In addition to boycotting Maple Leaf products, many of us felt that it was unseemly, contradictory and hypocritical for our pension plan to be supporting a company with such egregiously offensive labour practices. Alas, we were told by the Pension Board that there would be no divestment, as the plan had a 'fiduciary responsibility to earn as much as possible for its members.'

Reading Thomas Walkom's column today about the Porter Air fuel handlers' strike in Toronto reminded me of that time, as the columnist writes about how, despite the fact that it is a unionized environment,

one of the key investors in privately-held Porter Aviation Holdings Inc. is the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS), the pension fund for unionized public sector workers.

In fact,

OMERS handles the pension funds of 1,189 members of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, which represents Porter fuel handlers.

Walkom goes on to observe the irony of pension funds:

Employees struggle to win pensions. But once won, the pension funds that are established invariably follow the profit-maximizing rules of the financial marketplace.

Which in many case means these funds are used against unions.

Walkom makes two other disturbing points worth noting: the starting salary for the fuel handlers is a mere $12 per hour, the company having 'sweetened' the deal by offering a 25 cent hourly increase, which led to the strike and helps to explain the rapid turnover of its staff, something one perhaps might not want to dwell upon if one is navigating the friendly skies with Porter.

The second point is that, much to my incredulity, airline strikers have been charged with trespass for leafleting on the sidewalk outside the publicly owned terminal and are now consigned to picketing sight-unseen in a parking lot hidden from public view. I'm certainly no expert on the labour law, but to interdict demonstrations on public property strikes me as a gross violation of our freedom of expression and association.

But then, why am I so astounded? After all, the past seven years, which have seen a toxic social environment aggressively promoted by the Harper regime, have amply demonstrated how easy it is to turn people against people, the result being the steady unraveling of social cohesion and the steady exaltation of the corporate agenda.

4 comments:

  1. Who can live in Toronto on $12 an hour, Lorne? When unions turn on unions, we are doing as the movers and shakers wish -- and we are cutting off our noses despite our faces.

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    1. I know Owen. It is one of the shames of our times, when we have so much access to information, that we are so willfully blind to how we are being manipulated by those who do not have our best interests at heart.

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  2. " ... as the plan had a 'fiduciary responsibility to earn as much as possible for its members.'" This is BS. The managers of a pension plan have a fiduciary duty to manage the plan as per the its mandate. If the mandate is strictly to maximize returns then so be it. However, the mandate may also include social responsibility or ESG (environment, social and governance) issues.

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  3. I agree with you completely, UU4077. Organizations can justify their questionable actions in any number of ways, but it doesn't make those actions any more moral.

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