Changes to IWA pension plan has some former workers irate

A group of former forestry workers feel they have been slighted in a move by the IWA Forest Industry Pension Plan.

A group of former forestry workers feel they have been slighted in a move by the IWA Forest Industry Pension Plan. Stephen Thacker, one of those workers, said because of an amendment made by trustees, he and other workers will no longer be paid out the commuted value of their pension.

The letter that Thacker and others received earlier this year read: “When you terminated your membership you were told that a payment of the balance of your commuted value would be paid out five years from the initial payment. This is no longer the case. Effective March l, 2014, the Trustees will no longer be making these balance payments. Therefore, if you are expecting a balance payment after March 1, 2014, this payment has been eliminated.”

Thacker said he wants others affected by this change to know about it and band together to perhaps do something.

“There’s supposed to be 2,500 people that this is affecting at least,” Thacker said. “I just want to find these people and get them on board.”

He said he has a local law firm looking into it and was also recently approached by a group from the Lower Mainland. That group is seeking legal advice from a speciality lawyer for pensions.

They are now waiting to find out from the two lawyers what their next move should be.

“Basically that’s a contract — how can you go back on that?” Thacker said.

“The funds aren’t there they say,” Thacker said. “Every year when we were in contract negotiations, all we ever heard was when the fund was fully funded. I think it’s only been once in the 30 years since I’ve been in the IWA. Is it ever going to be fully funded? With more automation, with more people losing their jobs, sawmills shutting down?”

“The amendments were made because the current funding of the pension plan under B.C. pension legislation—it’s required that the board of trustees make changes to the plan to demonstrate that the contributions coming into the plan are sustainable for benefits being paid,” said Derrick Johnstone, deputy general manager at IWA Forest Industry Pension & Ltd Plans.

“To my knowledge there’s never been a reduction like this. It’s the board’s responsibility to examine all options that are available to them. They worked for months with their advisors to determine the most fair and equitable with the membership. The elimination of the commuted value payments was one of the changes.

“They made some other benefit reductions and at the same time active members increased their contribution significantly.”

Johnstone said once the board of trustees approved the benefit reductions they  had to go to the superintendent of pensions for B.C. for approval before they could be enacted, and that approval was given by the superintendent.

“The elimination of the commuted values has only impacted people that have left the plan,”  Johnstone said. “The 25,000 pensioners have not been affected. The members in the plan are paying more, as are the employers in the plan.”

He said the board of trustees responsible for the pension plan are made up of equal parts union representatives and industry representatives.

He explained the plan is called a multi-employer plan. It represents all of the bargaining forest-industry members, in this case the United Steelworkers.

The commuted value changes affected about 2,400 people.

Johnstone said there is really no process to appeal the changes for those affected.

“Once the superintendent of pensions has approved them, they are in effect,” he said. “Of course members are free to solicit legal advice on their own, and many have.”

Thacker said he is losing $26,000 with the loss of the commuted value payments.

“On a pension, that’s a year’s wages,” he said. “A lot of people think we are just commuted value hunters — well, this was offered to us by the IWA’s policy.

“We got a percentage on our commuted value when we broke service, which means we don’t work in the industry anymore, they commuted the value of our pensions.”

The IWA noted in the letter that many factors over the past several years have made it difficult for the financial health of the Plan.

“Despite our positive investment returns over the past six years, pension costs continue to grow faster than Plan assets,” the letter read. “Under British Columbia pension law, the Board is required to make amendments to ensure the Plan remains sustainable for the future. The Trustees looked at options available and considered fairness to all members.

“When you terminated your membership in the Plan and took out the commuted value of your pension, a certain portion was ‘held back’ due to the funded position of the Plan at that time. Under BC Pension law, the Plan is prohibited from making the full payment of a member’s commuted value if the Plan is not fully funded. Our financial position has declined further since the time you terminated your membership and these balance payments would further reduce the Plans assets.”

Thacker said he heard that those affected could apply to the Superintendent at a later date to possibly reverse that.

“But if they already took it away from us are they really going to give it back?” he said. “That would be a total shocker.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A man wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Vancouver on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
212 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

A total of 490 cases remain active; 15 in hospital

Incumbent MLA Tom Shypitka is contesting Kootenay East for the BC Liberals. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Shypitka named opposition critic for Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation

The Kootenay East MLA has held the energy and mines portfolio since 2017

Item no 22, De-Kieviet Kindergarten class - Highlands, Starting Bid: $20
Christmas Village 2020 school auction items

The annual Christmas Village has gone virtual, here are the auction items from local schools

File Photo
Missing hunter found dead in South Country

A hunter was reported as overdue on Nov. 29, and was found deceased on Nov. 30 following an RCMP and SAR operation

(Black Press file photo)
RCMP seeking driver of burnt out car found on HaHa Creek Road

Cranbrook RCMP are looking for the driver of a vehicle that was found on fire Monday

The bids for the 2020 Christmas Village are open as of noon on Thursday, November 26. Please scroll through this album to see auction items available for bidding.
Christmas Village 2020 auction items

The Christmas Village has gone virtual, here are all the details

Fossil finds at Mt. Stephen. (Photo: Sarah Fuller/Parks Canada)
Extreme hiking, time travel and science converge in the Burgess Shale

Climb high in the alpine and trace your family tree back millions of years – to our ocean ancestors

Kettle bells sit aligned in an indoor fitness studio. (
1 COVID-19 case at a B.C. fitness studio leads to 104 more infections, 6 school exposures

According to case data released by Fraser Health, one case of the novel coronavirus carries a big impact

Vehicles drive past a display thanking essential workers in Burnaby, B.C. on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
B.C. changing COVID-19 case reporting as virus spread continues

Manual counting takes more time, leads to errors

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Christy Jordan-Fenton is the co-author of the book Fatty Legs, which has been mentioned amid the controversy of an Abbotsford school assignment on residential schools.
Co-author of residential schools book condemns controversial Abbotsford class assignment

Children’s book mentioned amid controversy at W. A. Fraser Middle School

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka takes over as energy and mines critic for the B.C. Liberal opposition. Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick (right) moves from health critic to assistant deputy speaker. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals pick critics to take on Horgan’s NDP majority

Interim leader Shirley Bond takes seniors, long-term care

Most Read