Alberta government proposes to snatch away joint governance of public sector workers’ pension funds

The UCP government in Alberta has made the unilateral decision to consolidate Alberta public sector pensions under the control of the Alberta Investment Management Corporation, a crown corporation administered by the provincial government . According to an article in the Calgary Herald,  “Unions blast provincial decision to shift billions in public sector pension funds” : “(The) government intends to reverse the option of public sector pension plans leaving AIMCo as a fund manager. Moreover, the Alberta Teachers Retirement Fund, Workers’ Compensation Board and Alberta Health Services will be expected to transfer funds to AIMCo for management, reducing redundant administration.” More details appeared  in  “Government contemplates changes to management of more than 400,000 Alberta workers’ pension plans” in the Edmonton Journal (Nov. 1) which summarizes the opposition  by the Alberta public sector unions on the grounds that the decision reverses a recent change that gave more than 351,000 public sector employees joint control of their pension funds, through  a joint governance model that had been authorized by 2018 legislation and which only took effect in March 2019.  The Edmonton Journal article also states that police and firefighter pensions might also be included in the government plans.  “Alberta’s public unions prep for a fight, whether in the streets or the courts” is a broader overview from CBC Calgary which discusses the pension consolidation, as well as the wage cuts and workforce reduction included in Bill 21 of the new budget under the new UCP government.

ccpa-bc_fossilpensions_june2018-thumbnail (1)The attempt to shift Alberta workers’ pension funds brings to mind the 2018 report, Canada’s Fossil-Fuelled Pensions: The Case of the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation by the Corporate Mapping Project.  The report found that  despite its statements that it was a climate responsible investor, BCI had actually increased its  fossil fuel investments – for example, by boosting investment from $36.7 million in 2016 to $65.3 million in 2017  in Kinder Morgan, owner of the Trans-Mountain pipeline.  And although the new publication by the Corporate Mapping Project,  Big Oil’s Political Reach: Mapping fossil fuel lobbying from Harper to Trudeau, examines the power of the fossil fuel industry at the federal level, some might argue that its influence could also extend to Alberta’s pension management decisions.

 

Workplace resistance to the Trump agenda, and tracking the changes

The deliberately-executed distraction and turmoil of President Trump’s policies in the U.S. threaten and weary us all, at the same time that well-planned  resistance is most necessary.  Long-time activist Frances Fox-Piven wrote in The Nation in January, before the Inauguration,  “Throw sand in the gears of everything”, reflecting on past resistance movements in U.S. history, including civil rights and the Vietnam War.  She asks, “ So how do resistance movements win—if they win—in the face of an unrelentingly hostile regime? The answer, I think, is that by blocking or sabotaging the policy initiatives of the regime, resistance movements can create or deepen elite and electoral cleavages”.  Fox Piven puts strong hope in the actions of state and local governments, as well as citizen action. She also points to the defining protest which finally turned government policy on the Vietnam War: soldiers refused to followed orders.

In   “Where’s the best place to resist Trump? At Work” ( Washington Post ,Jan. 31; re-posted to Portside) the authors argue that  “ From solidarity strikes to slowdowns and sit-ins, workplace revolt is a key strategy in opposing the new administration”.  Describing some of the early anti-Trump protests, they state:  “These actions are indispensable, and may form the seeds of a new movement, but people should not ignore one of the most powerful means of resistance and protest that they have: their roles as workers.” Federal workers are not the only ones with the power to resist and disrupt, though federal workers are leading the way with courageous initiatives such as information leaks and alternative Twitter accounts.  The longshoremen in Oakland, California for example, declined to report for work on Inauguration Day :  see “Want to Stop Trump? Take a Page From These Dockworkers, and Stop Work”   in In These Times  (Jan. 23).  Or read “Some New York Taxi Drivers Are Striking In Protest Of Trump’s Refugee Ban”  in Buzzfeed (Jan. 29).

altepaResistance by federal workers is described in “In Show of Internal Dissent, Federal Workers Rising Up Against Trump”  a February 1 article from Common Dreams.  Another ongoing, public form  are the many   “rogue” Twitter accounts, started by the National Parks Service ,and now including very active accounts at  alt_EPA (with over 300,000 followers), alt_Interior  , alt_NOAA  , alt­_DOL , and more.  Ironically, they form a goldmine of activist information.  But beware of trolling accounts and imposter accounts.

Other web sources to follow U.S. developments, especially those related to climate change and environmental regulations,  are: Climate Central   ;   Common Dreams   ; Democracy Now: Donald Trump Coverage ; Inside Climate NewsThink Progress ; and   350.org   . Also notable,  Deregulation Tracker , where the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law (Columbia Law School) is  monitoring changes to  legislation and regulations, and the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative , which  is  monitoring, documenting, and analyzing changes to approximately 25,000  federal  websites using proprietary software that allows them to track changes to the language and code.  Climate Central published “The EPA Has Started to Remove Obama-era Information”   (Feb. 2)  based on the EDGI monitoring.

Public sector pension administrators are recognizing climate risk, protecting pensions of public employees in Ontario and New York City

OPTrust administers the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU ) Pension Plan, with almost 87,000 members and retirees.  On January 31, it became a leader in Canadian pension plan administration by releasing two documents:   Climate Change: Delivering on Disclosure, a position paper, and OPTrust: Portfolio Climate Risk Assessment, a report by Mercer consultants, which provides an assessment and analysis of the fund’s climate risk exposure .  The  OPTrust  press release  states: “For pension funds, climate change presents a number of complex and long-term risks. In Canada alone, pension funds manage well over $1.5 trillion in assets, which brings a real responsibility to collectively seek innovative approaches to modeling carbon exposure and its impact across portfolios.”   The position paper, Delivering on Disclosure, includes a call for collaboration amongst other financial actors to develop standardized measures for carbon disclosure.  It is noteworthy that OPTrust is governed by a 10-member Board of Trustees, five of whom are appointed by the union,  OPSEU,  and five by the employer, the Government of Ontario.

In a February 2 press release  affecting  the pension plans of New York’s public employees, teachers, firefighters and police,  the Office of the Controller of New York City announced:  “the Trustees of the New York City Pension Funds … will conduct the first-ever carbon footprint analysis of their portfolios and determine how to best manage their investments with an eye toward climate change. In the 21st century, companies must transition to a low-carbon economy, and a failure to adapt to the realities of global warming could present potential investment risks.”  The  New York City pension system  has been a leader in addressing climate change risks, including an initiative called the Boardroom Accountability Project  , which began in 2014 to give investors the ability to ensure boards are diverse and “climate-competent”.

On this point, a January 2017 report from Vancouver-based Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE) found that   “… companies in Canada’s most carbon-intensive sectors are not demonstrating ‘climate competency’ in the boardroom.”   The report, Taking Climate on Board: Are Canadian energy and utilities company boards equipped to address climate change? urges greater transparency from boards at publicly-traded corporations, stating “Investors need boards to demonstrate that they are “climate-competent” – that they understand and prioritize climate change risks to long-term value, including the physical, legal, reputational, stranded asset and regulatory risks related to climate change.”   The report is based on a  review of the public disclosures from 52 companies across Canada’s energy and utilities sectors,  using 3 measures: board skills and experience, oversight, and risk disclosure. It concludes that “more companies are starting to talk about climate change in their reporting, but only three boards disclosed any expertise amongst their members on the issue, and no board included climate change knowledge in its board competency matrix.” The full report is here.  (On another note, SHARE has walked the walk by filing shareholder resolutions with Enbridge Inc., and met with TD Bank regarding their environmental and social aspects of their investments  in  the Dakota Access Pipeline. See “The Dakota Access Pipeline and Indigenous Rights.” )