Recently-retired faculty at the City University of New York who are members of the city Teachers’ Retirement System pushed at a Dec. 3 board hearing for CUNY to provide TRS with the educators’ most-recent salaries so that the pension system could recalculate their monthly payments.
The Professional Staff Congress, which represents CUNY’s instructional faculty, said this issue has affected employees who retired after April 2012—the month the first raise was retroactively implemented under its seven-year contract that ended in 2017—and chose a retirement plan through the TRS. Though the scope of the problem is still being determined, about 300 retired staff have been affected, according to the union. (About 80 percent of CUNY retirees chose a different pension plan that was sponsored by the Teachers’ Insurance and Annuity Association of America.)
Ended 6-Year Drought
After going six years without a contract, in 2016 the PSC ratified a pact that included a 10.4-percent wage hike and back pay. The agreement spanned from Oct. 20, 2010 through Nov. 30, 2017.
TRS uses age, years of service and the final average salary to determine monthly retirement payments, but never received updated salary information for retirees who were owed back pay.
“We regret that retirees from CUNY have not received the full benefits due them under the contract ratified in 2016. As soon as we receive the necessary data, we will ensure that the benefits are processed expeditiously,” a TRS spokesperson said.
Bill Friedheim, chair of the PSC’s retiree chapter, said at the LaGuardia Community College hearing that he shared a “sense of solidarity and outrage” with pensioners affected by this problem.
“Scores of CUNY retirees in the Teachers’ Retirement System will not collect their full pension because the CUNY payroll office has not provided the accurate final salary history that TRS needs to calculate each individual’s monthly payment,” he said. “CUNY’s inability or unwillingness to do this is now entering its third year. This is unacceptable.”
Professor Jane Mushabac, who retired in September 2016, said that when she received her benefits letter in 2017, it didn’t reflect the salary increases from the most-recent contract. When she called TRS, she was told it would be revised by the end of that year.
“I urge that CUNY address this matter without further delay and expedite the recalculation of the FAS so that retirees like myself who are waiting for correct payments will receive the amounts we are entitled to,” she told the Board.
Ms. Mushabac added that it made no sense that CUNY was unable to provide this data because when faculty members retire, the college assesses their employment history. “That source of simple, accurate information is being disregarded,” she said.
Mr. Friedheim said that the union has been pushing CUNY to resolve the issue, which may have stemmed from cuts to its payroll office. “I do not know if Payroll’s inaction is because of neglect, incompetence, oversight or the fact that several people in the payroll office have been laid off. But whatever the reason, this is punishing teaching faculty and professional staff who have dedicated anywhere from 20 to 50 years of their work life,” he said.
The chapter leader was told by CUNY's Interim Vice Chancellor for Human Resources, Margaret Egan, that updated salary information has not been provided to TRS for in-service members as well.
Terrence Quinn, a Professor of Educational Leadership who retired in 2015 and previously worked as a city Principal before teaching at Queens College, called it a “mushrooming problem.”
“Just as I try to impart values of decency to my students, I am asking that this Board do the same for its retirees,” he said. “This is not a gift, this is something that we earned. I spent 50 years working, and my pension is not settled.”
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