Community Food Centres Canada joins OPTrust plan after years of lump-sum retirement payments

Employees of Community Food Centres Canada will join the OPTrust Select defined benefit pension plan after more than 90 per cent voted in favour of the move.

CFCC, which operates nine food centres across the country to reduce food insecurity for Canadians, was named one of the plan’s seven inaugural members on April 26. OPTrust Select, launched by the OPSEU Pension Trust in April 2018, is specifically for public sector, charitable and non-profit employers.

Prior to the move, CFCC had no formal pension or retirement savings plan for its roughly 30 employees. Instead, it provided staff with three per cent of their gross pay at the end of the year and allowed them to put it toward whatever they chose.

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Kathryn Scharf, CFCC’s chief operating officer, says OPTrust Select was the first defined benefit pension plan she’d heard of for the non-profit sector. “[It] seemed like kind of a unique proposition in our non-profit world. DB plans are a thing of myth for us.

“And the idea that it was connected to the OPSEU pension plan seemed to give it enormous stability,” she adds.

Employers and employees will contribute three per cent each to the plan. And because OPTrust Select isn’t managed as a segregated fund, its members will benefit from the larger pension’s fund management and low fees.

“It is a huge benefit to have even a relatively modest but reliable income supplement to your CPP and OAS when you’re older,” says Scharf. “And especially if you’re a younger worker now and are looking to contribute for many years.”

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The plan also has a buy-back option for employees who’ve been working for a longer period of time, says Scharf. CFCC had also considered the Common Good retirement plan, a portable option for Canadian non-profits, but it wasn’t quite the right fit for the organization’s employee base, she notes.

“If you’re a part-time or contract worker, [Common Good] is great because it’s portable . . . but most of our staff are permanent, full-time, stable and above a certain level of income. So we don’t have quite the same imperative and we can afford to do the matching.”

Scharf says the organization put the OPTrust Select move to an employee vote because they were never asked to contribute a specific amount to their retirement before and the new plan would make it mandatory.

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“We said we would do a vote and if there was more than 60 per cent approval we would go forward with it. And there was well above 90 per cent,” she says. “Everybody pretty much wanted in. We didn’t want to force it on people to have to spend their money, but they wanted to.”

The company’s access to the DB plan is also a benefit when it comes to recruiting talent, adds Scharf. “I think, for employers, it’s great to be able to offer it to new staff, or to attract and retain staff. I just think, what will make this a good place to work and make people want to work here and feel it’s an employer that cares about staff.”