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Canwest can’t stop causing pain

There’s news today that should send shivers down the spine of every Canwest employee – as if they need more stuff to be worried about.

Canwest has told a group of retirees at CHCH-TV that it will be winding up the CHCH pension effective August 31, 2009. That’s the closing date of the sale of the station to Channel Zero..

Like many pensions, the plan has an “unfunded windup deficiency”. It’s not clear whether that’s because of the market and/or low interest rates or because Canwest hasn’t been meeting its pension payments. No matter the cause, the retirees have been told that Canwest has no plans to fund the deficiency.

This means the 108 pensioners of CHCH are left in the cold, with pensions reduced by an amount Canwest, not surprisingly, is not revealing. They are the newest faces of the damage a debt-ridden media conglomerate can do….and why we need to make sure another Canwest doesn’t rise from the ashes anywhere else.

For Canwest employees everywhere who’ve been waiting for word on whether the company will file for bankruptcy protection, this is sobering news indeed. They need to start asking some tough questions about their own pensions.

The reality is that while many companies are grappling with the effect of last year’s market crash on their pensions, and with outdated pension regulations, the better ones are taking on these massive problems in conjunction with their employees and/or unions. For example, the pension plan at Canadian Press has been restructured jointly with my union, the Canadian Media Guild.

It’s good to see that the retirees group at CHCH is using one of the best lawyers in the pension field, Hugh O’Reilly of Cavalluzzo Hayes. He certainly helped our members at the Canadian Press. But unfortunately, Canwest left this pension problem until the last possible moment. It’s quite possible that the only hope for the pensioners is relief from the federal government – which is dealing with beleaguered companies from coast to coast.

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