27 June 2006

CBC failed to properly distribute
pension plan surplus, arbitrator rules

Canadian Media Guild | TNG Canada Local 30213

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation violated collective agreements when it distributed only a portion of a pension plan surplus earmarked for employees and retirees, an arbitrator has found.

In a 131-page ruling, arbitrator Denis Nadeau states that the CBC erred by not following the recommendation of the Consultative Committee on Staff Benefits (CCSB), which had made a proposal to distribute the money equitably. The CCSB had determined that $336 million of the $1.1-billion pension plan surplus should be available to employees and retirees. The CBC distributed only $134 million.

All of the CBC’s unions filed grievances in the fall of 2000; they agreed that whichever of them was able to have the case heard quickly by a well-respected arbitrator would “carry the ball.” It was the Syndicat canadien de la function publique that took the lead, with Montreal lawyer Pierre Grenier as counsel. The Canadian Media Guild, which represents 5,500 employees at the CBC, was an interested party in the case. The Guild’s senior staff representative, Dan Oldfield, was a key witness.

The collective agreements oblige the CBC to implement any CCSB recommendation that doesn't endanger the pension plan or cause the corporation additional expense, says Keith Maskell, a CMG staff representative who has been involved in the case from the beginning.

While the CBC was found to have acted unilaterally, it doesn't necessarily mean the corporation will have to pay out $202 million to 16,000 current and former (retired) employees. Hearings over the next few months will determine what sort of financial and/or other remedy will come from the ruling.

The most important element of the arbitrator's ruling was to "remind the corporation that the CCSB exists for a reason, that the corporation has to follow the collective agreement, and that CBC management does not have the right to make unilateral decisions about any surplus in our pension plan," says Maskell.