EDITORIALS

Mayor Offside with Attack on Police Pensions

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman (Photo JGJ)

It was but a few weeks ago Chief Danny Smyth held an unprecedented news conference to sound the alarm regarding his concern for the mental health and wellbeing of the men and women employed by the Winnipeg Police Service.

During the presser, Smyth told reporters his officers were under significant resource and emotional strain in the wake of several serious, traumatic incidents that included;

“The mayor is grateful for the efforts of the women and men of our Winnipeg Police Service and the tremendous work they continue to do each day.”

  • a homicide case
  • a police-involved shooting
  • an in-custody death
  • the theft of a police vehicle
  • a violent, traumatic, emotionally disturbing public suicide attempt

Smyth reported a total of seven (7) police officers had been “pulled” from their regular duties to have their physical and mental health assessed after being involved in these incidents.

Things were so dire, Smyth sent an internal email to all Police Service employees acknowledging he was aware they were being overwhelmed with calls for service and by spikes in methamphetamine fuelled violence and out of control property crime.

The letter implored officers and staff to, “Please hang in there.”

Jeremy Davis, the Mayor’s press secretary, issued a statement on the Mayor’s behalf indicating;

“The mayor is grateful for the efforts of the women and men of our Winnipeg Police Service and the tremendous work they continue to do each day.”

Police Chief Danny Smyth – A picture worth a thousand words – Photo JGJ

Approximately one week later, Chief Smyth & Mayor Bowman shared the podium at a presser for the release of the 2018 WPS Annual Statistical Report.

There was no good news.

Smyth reported serious, concerning increases in violent crime, robbery and property crime.

Like a CEO issuing an earnings warning, a dejected Smyth told reporters things were only going to get worse for next years report.

No less than a couple of weeks later local newspapers reported the City of Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Police Union were soon to be heading for a showdown over police pensions.

At issue – the city intends to remove overtime from pensionable earnings, increase officer contributions, cap employer contributions and make other unspecified changes.

The Mayor’s intent to alter police pensions should come as no surprise, after all, he made it part of his platform in his successful re-election campaign.

What is a surprise, he intends to make these changes unilaterally.

Brian F Kelcey – Twitter

Last I heard, the police pension was part of a collective agreement subject to change only through the process of collective bargaining.

I’m not the only one who’s under that impression.

Brian Kelcey, public policy specialist, and former Special Advisor to the Mayor of Winnipeg (2004 – 2008) is also perplexed by the move.

(A number of city councillors have gone on the record indicating they do not support Bowman’s initiative.)

Chronology is important here…

  • The Police Chief rings the alarm bell regarding the mental health and wellbeing of police officers and staff
  • The Mayor is “grateful” for the efforts of the men & women of the WPS
  • The dreadful Annual Statistical Report is released showing alarming spikes in violence and property crime
  • The Mayor attacks police pensions

It seems Brian Bowman has a strange way of showing his gratitude.

I realize the notion of saving money at the expense of civic employees is an easy sell to the majority of the public and I’m sure that’s why Bowman introduced the idea as part of his campaign strategy.

Bowman at Police Presser – Photo JGJ

It scores easy points.

Frankly, I take no issue with the City of Winnipeg (Mayor) identifying the inclusion of overtime and other items in police pensions as a concern they want to address.

I call that “just business.”

I do take issue with the idea the City of Winnipeg can make unilateral changes to the police pension plan.

I consider that a bad faith approach that sets a dangerous precedent for all Civic Unions.

Simply put, it’s not fighting fair.

The Mayor cites the 1.5 million dollars in annual savings as motivation for the attack on the police pensions.

In light of the methamphetamine and crime crisis, some suggest the Mayor’s priorities are frightfully confused.

Others suggest the attack on police pensions is motivated by a spiteful Mayor intent on punishing police officers for the perceived support the Winnipeg Police Association (WPA) offered to Bowman election rival Jenny Motkaluk.

(I admit when he initially raised the issue it seemed somewhat spiteful to me.)

No matter what you believe I can assure you this, the attack on police pensions will have a major negative effect on police officer morale.

The same officers Chief Danny Smyth recently asked to, “Please hang in there.”

I have no doubt the WPA will fight the good fight and vigorously defend police pensions. They have excellent legal representation and have a habit of scoring decisive wins when it comes to contract arbitration or grievance resolution.

In the end, the fight will be costly for both sides.

The negative impact on employer-employee relations will be immeasurable and difficult to repair.

If nothing else, most would agree the timing of all this is highly questionable.

I’m sorry, Mayor Bowman you’re way offside with this one.


A Few Things to Consider;

Police Officers Make Significant Contributions to their Pensions
Winnipeg Police Officers make arrest – Photo JGJ

Upon retirement, police officers do not start drawing cheques from City of Winnipeg taxpayer-funded resources. During the course of their entire careers, officers make significant bi-weekly contributions to their pensions. These contributions are invested and earn interest.

Police officers work hard and earn their pensions.

Overtime is Controlled by Management – Not the Officer

Police management fully controls overtime, no officer is guaranteed overtime and no officer is forced to work overtime. It is not the officer’s responsibility to prevent costs associated with overtime.

Overtime is often magnified by lack of resources.

Police officers are not responsible for resources and resource allocation.

Resources and resource allocation is the responsibility of the Police Service, Police Board and the City of Winnipeg – ie: the Mayor.

Overtime is a simple reality in many aspects of law enforcement that most officers live with. Police officers accept the fact that overtime is a necessary evil, it’s part of their dedication to duty and commitment to the job.

Police Work is Dangerous & Difficult
Police Officers at armed & barricaded call – Photo JGJ

The decision to remove overtime from pension calculations will have an adverse effect on police officers retirement plans.

Police officers will likely have to work longer in order to have a financially secure retirement.

Some say police work is a young person’s job.

Fistfights, foot chases, physical confrontations with people in methamphetamine psychosis, emotionally traumatic incidents and shift work all take a toll on police officers.

It’s dangerous and difficult work.

It’s just not the kind of work someone can do for 35 – 40 years and come out of it unscathed.

Many U.S. Police Agencies provide for full pensions for police officers after twenty (20) years of service.

Police Officer Mortality

Some studies report the average police officer dies within five years of retirement and have a life expectancy much lower than other professions.

I could write a very long list of police officer colleagues of mine who died while still in service or passed away within that five-year window.

The reasons are many and include stress, shift work, emotional trauma, addiction, and hazardous environmental work-related exposures.

7 Comments

  1. James G Jewell

    Tony,

    Thank you very much for weighing in…

    Your comments bring significant value to the discussion.

    Much appreciated.

  2. Tony Kavanagh

    As a former President of the Manitoba Association of Crown Attorneys, I know full well that governments are always looking to cut or keep costs down. That’s totally expected. We had a fair share of hard bargaining but that’s done within the realm of the bargaining contract process.

    However, this kind of a move by the Mayor seems impulsive and smells unfair because it’s lobbed out as a public statement, and frankly a subtle message that police are “padding” somehow, or skimming. Look I am now a defence lawyer. But I’ve worked juries on both sides and lots of cases over 23 years. I know the dedication and time that officers put in. When that call comes in at 4:00 a.m. that some unlucky fellow has met his end, or some guy is shooting up a house, the homicide or major crimes unit work non-stop. It’s stressful, urgent and vital work. They’re needed, they get up, leave their families and go out and work for sometimes 16-20 hours or more before catching a nap, no matter the time. We can debate ways to control overtime, to add unit resources, to bargain work conditions and the like but that’s for the bargaining table.

    It’s a morale deflator to chuck this incendiary out there as was done.

    It’s also simply disrespectful.

    I expect more of our leaders. I have my beef with the small number of officers who besmirch their duties sure, but at the end of the day, the police deserve our respect and should have the right to fairness and natural justice to bargain fairly. So I agree with you Jimmy. The mayor was offside here. Good piece.

  3. Excellent points under “things to consider”. As an ex-nurse, I think our health care unions should be making similar arguments for the inclusion of overtime wages in pension calculations…including applying the overtime hours worked to pensionable years of service (For example, if actual hours worked are 10% greater than full time, consider the employee having contributed 1.1 years of service during that year).

  4. As a lawyer, he should know one can’t change a contractual point without new negotiations.

  5. I believe the mayor has been shut down by the PC party ! His knowledge of police work and the mess some guys heads get in is so out of touch with reality it hurts ! He has a advisory group of his own hand picked councillor to monitor the WPS . WPS has a contract which includes pension plan . The mayor says he’s a lawyer what intelligent mayor would operate at such a silly low level of Intelligence !
    Retired City Employee !

  6. I’m not surprised by this. He’s playing hardball with Winnipeg transit as we speak. I’m sure all the other civil service contracts are on the block as the opportunities arise. Bottom line, if you work for the city right now, expect to have to fight city hall.

  7. Joe Hilmerich

    It is ridiculous what the mayor is planning to do.
    The Winnipeg Police Service and all the officers working on the behalf of the safety of the public have earned to be paid according to great jobs they are doing day by day.
    The mayor should honor this tremendous work been done by the Police.
    Somebody should take action and let the mayor know that he is not right and does not have the right to fight against his Policemen…

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