Workers beat Hydro One again

TORONTO, ONTARIO - If nothing else there was the stark contrast: On the same day the government of Ontario released the list of employees who earn more than $100,000 a year came news that the Ontario Superior Court of Justice had delivered a massive victory for the little guy, specifically 73 former middle managers with Hydro One, the province's power distribution-and-transmission utility.

The group were terminated in late 2002 as part of a cost-reduction program.

While the group, many of whom were nearing retirement, received a severance, no proper adjustment was made to their pensions. (They were all members of the Hydro One pension plan.) In essence, the workers wanted to start receiving their much-reduced pensions earlier than would otherwise be the case. Having access to the pension would alleviate some of the financial hardship they were facing.

But they were denied, and that's what upset them.

So they launched a process and five years-plus later, they have just been told the Superior Court agrees with their point of view. That decision, plus a decision in favour of the workers made by the Financial Services Tribunal of Ontario last year, means the current scorecard runs this way: Workers 2, Hydro One 0.

And the three Superior Court Justices - Frances Kiteley, Peter Cumming and Douglas Shaw - didn't hold back in their 12-page verdict. They cited the FST's ruling, which said "the merger was an excuse, rather than a reason to further thin out staff, particularly staff with some seniority."

And for good measure they added: "We conclude... (that) the number of terminated employees can be significant as an absolute number.... We do not agree with Hydro One's assertion that the words 'significant number' must be determined by comparing the number of affected pension plan members against the total active membership." The three justices also awarded costs against Hydro One.

It's not known how Hydro One, currently 0 for 2 on this matter, intends to deal with the latest defeat. "Hydro One is reviewing the Superior Court decision and we will be considering options," said a spokesperson.

While the utility mulls a response, what's known is that it has spent a pile on legal bills over the past five years-plus on an argument that has been soundly rejected by the Financial Services Tribunal and by the Superior Court of Justice. Of course, the legal bills end up being paid by the province's electricity ratepayers.

For the 73 laid-off workers, the hope presumably is that Hydro One recognizes the two decisions and acts accordingly. Sack Goldblatt Mitchell, the law firm that acted for the 73 former workers, could not be reached.

Here is the time line:

Late 2002: 73 middle-level managers are laid off.

2003: The group requested the Financial Services Commission of Ontario, whose mandate is to protect workers' rights under the Pensions Benefits Act, order a partial windup of the Hydro One Pension Plan with respect to the management compensation plan.

2005: The FSC0 declined that request. The group then appealed to the Financial Services Tribunal, which in 2007 ruled in their favour. The FST noted the failure of Hydro One to provide those terminated with the rights and privileges afforded other groups downsized during the same period.

2007: Hydro One appealed the decision to the Superior Court.

2008: Hydro One loses its appeal.


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