South Surrey senior Jim McCann says he is one of the more fortunate former employees of Sears Canada.
He retired from a head-office position 34 years ago – after 33 years with the company, which closed the last of its doors in early January – in good financial stand.
Others, however, weren’t so lucky, he said.
“The rank-and-file employees, it’s really hit them hard,” McCann told Peace Arch News Wednesday morning, following a meeting at South Surrey-White Rock MP Gordie Hogg’s office organized by the CARP White Rock/Surrey chapter as part of a ‘National Day of Action’ calling for legislation to protect pensioners.
CARP representatives across Canada planned meetings with their Liberal MPs this week to present petitions demanding change that would protect employees’ pension contributions when a company goes under, by extending “super-priority” status to pension deficits. The visit to Hogg’s Peninsula Village office was the local chapter’s first of the day.
“What we’re worried about is Sears is now setting a precedent,” chapter president Ramona Kaptyn told Hogg, in reference to a multi-million-dollar shortfall in the chain’s pension plan that has left thousands of former employees and retirees facing losses.
“This is going to be happening more and more.”
McCann, 89, told PAN his benefits – medical, dental and life insurance – were cut off in November, translating to a $3,500 annual expense for him and his wife. He’s yet to learn the impact to his pension, but said that hit could be as much as 20 per cent.
Air Canada retiree Ron Goran told Hogg that pensioners need legal standing.
“If a company ceases to operate, we really don’t have any protection,” he said. “We need some standing by law to have the right to say ‘you can’t do this’…. Right now, there’s nothing to protect us.”
Kaptyn noted her own family was affected by a similar situation in the ’90s, when the company her father had worked for went under, and the family received a phone call informing them that the retirement-home expense for her mother’s care would no longer be covered.
“Luckily, we scrambled around and managed to keep her there,” she said. “That’s how horrible it is.”
“Sears isn’t the first company to do this,”she added. “What we are advocating for as CARP… is for those coming after us, this mustn’t happen.”
Kaptyn presented Hogg with a ‘memory stick’ containing more than 20,000 signatures in support of the call for immediate action by government, and asked him to “start the ball rolling for pension reform.”
Hogg, who was elected in a Dec. 11 byelection, described CARP’s recommendation for how to protect pensions in the event of a company’s insolvency or bankruptcy as “pretty sound,” and agreed with Kaptyn that any change needs to be made at a federal level.
“If there could be a baseline standard across Canada, then that protects people that go in provincially as well,” he said. “Ideally, this should be a national legislation.”
Hogg told PAN he “totally” supports the principle of protecting the pensions.
“I don’t know how you cannot be (supportive),” he said. “You would think (a company’s) first responsibility would be to their employees.”
Hogg said there has already been “some discussion” of the matter in Ottawa, and that there is “some appetite for looking at this.”
It’s unclear if government would be bound by any decisions resulting from ongoing court proceedings regarding Sears, he said.
Hogg said he would not go the route of a private member’s bill, noting change “will go much faster if we’re able to get government on board.”
The CARP members also met with Hogg’s fellow Liberal MPs John Aldag (Cloverdale-Langley City) and Ken Hardie (Fleetwood-Port Kells) Wednesday, during an afternoon panel on seniors housing, held in Cloverdale.