VON Pension Plan Update

This is a joint communication to members from the following six unions: the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU); the Nova Scotia Nurses Union (NSNU), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Ontario Public Service Employees Union/Syndicat des employés de la fonction publique de l’Ontario (OPSEU/SEFPO), SEIU Healthcare and the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA). Together these six unions represent more than 1,600 active members of the VON Canada Pension Plan (the Plan) in two different provinces. We are united in a common cause to ensure that VON Canada lives up to the important pension promises it has made to our members.

2006 Reduction in retirement benefits

In 2006, VON unilaterally imposed a major cut to retirement benefits under the Plan. The basic rate at which members earn benefits was slashed by about one third, however there was not an equivalent adjustment to the amount contributed by plan members. Essentially plan members continued to pay the same amount but received a lower pension benefit. At the time, VON promised that this cut would be temporary, but it is still in place and hardworking VON employees are not earning pension benefits nearly as fast as they should. Our pension benefits continue to lag behind other public sector and healthcare plans. This was and remains unfair.

2010 VON Promise to restore benefits

In 2010, the Plan faced a deficit and the employer wanted to take advantage of and secure an easing of its annual pension funding obligations that had been offered by the Ontario government (the Plan has members in Nova Scotia and Ontario but is regulated by Ontario’s pension laws). At the time, VON told members that “to remain a viable organization, VON must use the new temporary measures.” However, to be able to access this funding relief, the government required Plan members’ consent, recognizing it comes with an increased risk to plan members’ benefit security. A negotiation took place between VON and a coalition of unions representing Plan members and an agreement was reached: in exchange for the unions providing consent on behalf of their members, VON agreed to reinstate benefits back to their pre-2006 levels when the Plan had returned to surplus and met certain actuarial conditions. This promise was documented in written agreements between VON and the unions in 2010.

With this VON promise made, VON was able to reduce its annual contributions to the pension Plan. VON clearly believed that without this relief, the financial viability of VON itself would have been in question.

Since that time, the pension Plan’s health has been improving. We have fulfilled our side of the agreement. We have continued to trade our labour (even through a pandemic) on the understanding that VON would make good on its side of this deal.

The Unions’ request to restore retirement benefits

The funding levels in the Plan have, for some time now, been at a threshold at which a restoration of benefits is required under the 2010 agreement. In late 2020, the unions demanded the restoration of benefits. VON did not restore the benefits as promised. The unions responded by filing grievances to compel VON’s compliance with the 2010 agreements. In 2021 and 2022, the unions engaged in settlement discussions with VON that did not lead to a resolution.

The unions are now moving ahead with hearing the grievance filed by NSGEU. Because all the grievances involve identical agreements reached by VON and the six unions, resolution of one grievance may effectively determine the outcome of the others. The unions therefore decided the NSGEU grievance would be advanced to arbitration because NSGEU represents the largest number of Plan members. The other grievances are being held in abeyance. Proceeding with a single representative grievance will simplify the hearing process and avoid unnecessary duplication of the grievance proceedings.

The unions have retained Goldblatt Partners (Ontario) who have provided legal advice with regards to the grievances and will represent us in the labour arbitration process. Goldblatt Partners are leading lawyers in labour law with a specialty in pension law.

The unions have retained an independent actuary to analyze the financial position of the Plan over the years to confirm that the Plan can afford to improve benefits and has met the thresholds of the restoration promise obtained in 2010. Costs related to that work are being shared by the unions.

We had an initial arbitration date before Arbitrator William Kaplan on April 9th. The parties agreed to use our second arbitration date on June 18th as a mediation date in an attempt to reach a negotiated settlement. In our view, this was a productive day and some progress was made. We have booked further dates as part of this process to attempt to reach a settlement. Should this effort be unsuccessful, we have further arbitration dates booked into 2025. As part of our efforts to see pension benefits restored, we are also exploring a possible merger of the VON Pension Plan with an existing large public sector plan (or plans). We would of course only take this step if we believed it was in the best interests of our members and it would be subject to any applicable approval and consultation processes. Currently discussions are underway between representatives of the unions and existing public sector plans in Ontario and Nova Scotia.

The unions will continue to keep our members updated throughout this legal process.

If you have questions or concerns about this process, please contact Corinne Carey at 902-424-4063 or inquiry@nsgeu.ca.


All of these delays and legal expenses on both sides would be unnecessary if VON would simply honour the deal they signed in 2010 and restore pension benefits back to where they were before the employer unilaterally cut them by about a third in 2006. VON workers stepped up and effectively saved this employer in 2010. VON workers stepped up again and have continued to do incredibly important frontline work throughout the pandemic. It is time for VON to step up and make good on their promise. Restore our members’ pension benefits!

Our coalition of six unions will continue working together to ensure that VON puts Plan members first.

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