“In 2006, I was just an organizer – the entry level job in a union. But my trajectory has taken me to do a lot of member engagement work, including education and political action.
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In 2011, Downey was the main organizer. The following year, he became director of leadership and member development. When the union began its work on the My65+ plan, its skills as a community organizer came into play.
“We worked a lot to find how we could meet [members’] Needs. It all started with member surveys and town hall meetings. »
Downey, who became SEIU secretary-treasurer in 2018, admits he wasn’t sure the creation of the retirement savings plan would lead to anything. He doubted that many PSSPs, who typically earn between $30,000 and $40,000 a year, would be able to save money for their retirement. However, he changed his mind when he looked at survey responses about what members would sacrifice for retirement security.
“They talked about giving up a coffee a day at Tim Hortons, a weekly pizza with friends, and other little things. What was important was that they were ready to give up something. We thought, ‘We have something here.’ »
The initiative began to take shape. The union has teamed up with group administrators keen to innovate in the retirement space, specially designed for the needs of home health aides who can contribute at least $30 a month. With members required to choose between different investment options, Downey knew that many members would still be hesitant to join. To overcome this, he planned a series of education sessions. However, before the sessions started, disaster – in the form of the coronavirus pandemic – struck.
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“With so many of our members struggling to pay for their necessities, we knew it was not the right time to ask people to focus on their retirement. We wondered if the right time would ever come, but then the 2021 federal budget was released.
The government proposed an allocation of $9.2 million each year until 2023 for the My65+ plan. With this support, Downey was able to begin educating SEIU members. As its membership grows, he hopes the model will inspire similar organizations across Canada.
“There are too many hard-working people who work their ass off to take care of others. Having access to a plan that allows them to retire in safety and dignity is something we should all agree on.
Gideon Scanlon is the editor of the Canadian Investment Review.