In November of 1985, Dr. Alastair Riach started the Pensioners' Association of Memorial University of Newfoundland because he rightly identified a need for a single body to represent pensioners on issues of mutual concern.
A month later, the Pensioners' Association was granted representation on a committee that reported to the University's Board of Regents. According to the constitution which was finalized that year, the Pensioners' Association had three general purposes:
To submit to the appropriate officials of the University matters of concern or interest to a member or members of the Association either directly or through its representation on the MUN Pensions' Committee.
To bring to the attention of the members of the Association sources of assistance provided by Federal, Provincial, Municipal Governments or by other organizations.
To receive, hold and use all money and other assets subscribed to it in any other way.
Those present at the first meeting in November 1985 suggested six issues they wanted the Pensioners' Association to pursue: one of these had a positive outcome; two others became continuing concerns; two were minor or almost irrelevant; and the last one had an unexpected resolution -- not through the Pensioners' Association, but through another organization.
These results -- and the remarks that follow -- give more of an idea of how the MUN Pensioners' Association has operated -- what it has done, and what it has tried to do.
Over the six years from 1985 (actually 1985-86) to 1990 (1990-91), approximately six or seven issues a year were presented to the Pension Committee of the University's Board of Regents by our representative on the Pension Committee.
Except for the memorable admittance of pensioners to the benefits of the MUN dental plan, and free parking privileges for pensioners on the university campus, most attempts were not immediately successful.
Memorial University and the Provincial Government which ultimately controls the University pension plan, objected to the attempts of the Pensioners' Association to learn more about the operation of the plan. But considering that Memorial's Pension Plan is the source of the future income and the determinant of the lifestyles of many pensioners, the Pensioners' Association has persisted.
Some of the issues of less immediate success presented to the Board of Regents and then to the Provincial Government concerned:
- pension indexing
- stacking and/or integrating of pensions
- retroactive purchasing of benefits
- reduction of the vesting period
- improved portability rights
- reduction of the qualifying period for claiming credit for war service
- free tuition to the dependant children of pensioners and for pensioners under the age of 60
- cost-of-living increases (or ad hoc increases under the Increase of Pensions Act)
Since 1990-91, Memorial's Pensioners' Association has become more active, partly because of the increased recognition by the University. The Association has continued to address many of the original problems that were noted in the first years of its existence --- the less sucessful issues mentioned above.
The Pensioners' Association also attempted to broaden its appeal to its membership by holding different types of meetings: a social evening was a qualified success, as was a meeting devoted to discussing financial issues in retirement. It was decided at the time that the interests of pensioners' were too diverse to be satisfied by any one particular type of meeting, and that the most important function of the Pensioners' Association might well be to monitor the University's activities concerning pensioners -- or to act as a watchdog and pensioners' advocate.
In August 1992, for instance, the Pensioners' Association alerted all pensioners to the fact that the fund from which the University had paid part of the health, dental and insurance premiums was quickly being depleted, and that when it was fully depleted, the University intended charging pensioners half the cost of their group insurance premiums.
This was the first visible indication of what was to become the group-insurance-premiums-for-pre-1993-pensioners' issue -- an issue which the Pensioners' Association kept to the fore until alleviatory measures were implemented in the spring of 1997.
In 1993, despite all efforts, the benefits issues (or group insurance matters) at Memorial University seemed to suffer the most from budgetary pressures. Actual benefits were reduced, and the costs of them increased.
In December 1993, the Executive of the Pensioners' Association learned that a cost-cutting proposal involving reduced health & dental benefits had passed the University's Employee Benefits Committee and would probably be made policy at a meeting of the Board of Regents to be held in January 1994. As if anticipating this, though, the membership of the Pensioners' Association had made a unanimous motion at its Annual General Meeting in October, several months earlier, to have the University honour to the full its commitment to provide health & dental coverage to all Memorial employees who retired before the end of December of 1992, at no cost to those pensioners.
On the brighter side, however, the Executive of the Pensioners' Association won its request for computer accounts for pensioners. (This request had been made in the fall of 1993, and the request was granted almost a year later.) Also, when the Executive learned that pensioners were slated to be charged for borrowing books from the University library, it requested that these library privileges to all pensioners. They were.
In late 1994 and early 1995, the representative of the Pensioners' Association on the Performance Review Subcommittee of the University Pension Committee played an advisory role in relation to the replacement of one of the Pension Fund managers. At this time as well, pension indexing became a more prominent issue. Benefits issues soon became more important again, beginning in the following year. Pensioners experienced many problems with the new "HealthWise" Health Care Plan which had been introduced in 1995.
In January 1996, the issue of privatizing the Memorial University Pension Fund was raised by officials of the Provincial Government. Privatization would give increased flexibility in the administration of the Fund, but would also mean removal of the government guarantee to take care of any shortfall: this is not seen as a factor in 1996, because the Fund was quite solvent and well-administered, but the Executive of the Pensioners' Association was resistant to the idea.
Over the years, as we have learned more about Memorial's Pension Plan, we (the Pensioners' Association) have kept the membership informed via the notices or newsletters sent out by the University's Department of Human Resources with the monthly pension cheques. We will continue to do this, to fulfill the original purposes as outlined in the constition, and to monitor the activities of the University administration.