Frustrated retirees of the City University of New York called on the system to immediately provide the city Teachers’ Retirement System with educators’ salary histories so that hundreds of them who chose a pension plan sponsored by TRS could be made whole.
TRS uses age, years of service and the final average salary to determine monthly retirement allowances, but after the Professional Staff Congress and CUNY in 2016 settled a contract that included a 10.4-percent wage hike, CUNY did not immediately provide the pension system with updated salary information for retirees who were owed back pay under the deal.
Adjuncts Still Not Whole
At a Board of Trustees meeting in late 2018, many of the retired faculty members demanded that CUNY to address the problem. And while the issue has since been resolved for many retirees who worked as full-time faculty, it hasn’t been for more than 900 retirees who primarily worked as adjuncts.
Bill Friedheim, chair of the PSC’s retiree chapter, said that mostly adjuncts were being affected because they could only obtain a pension plan sponsored by TRS, while full-time faculty were able to choose a plan through either TRS or the Teachers’ Insurance and Annuity Association of America.
He also stated that many of the former adjuncts had worked at multiple campuses, sometimes two or three at a time.
“Evidently that’s totally flummoxed the CUNY payroll department,” Mr. Friedheim said. Most of the people being affected retired sometime between 2012—the year the first raise was retroactive to under the last contract—and 2018. The previous agreement ran from Oct. 20, 2010 through Nov. 30, 2017.
Coming Up 30% Light
He estimated that the retirees were currently not receiving as much as 30 percent of their monthly pension payments. He noted that the educators’ pensions “were already very modest, but even they’re being held up.”
During a meeting with the PSC in early April, CUNY stated that it would provide the correct payroll information for those who retired before 2017 sometime later this year, according to Mr. Friedheim. But management would not commit to a date to resolve the problem for more-recently retired employees, he said.
“They’ve had a bunch of excuses along the lines of ‘The dog ate my homework, the dog ate CUNY’s computers,’” he said.
The retiree chair pointed out that the city Department of Education was able to provide TRS with the correct salaries for substitute Teachers who worked at different schools, “so why can’t CUNY?”
Frank Sobrino, a spokesman for CUNY, indicated that the pension system has required the university to provide the data in a different format. TRS replied that its "stated requirements for receiving service and salary data from CUNY has not changed since 2017."
"During 2019-20, we promptly completed revisions for over 400 TRS members upon receiving the required data from CUNY. However, we have not received what we need to proceed with the remaining revisions," TRS stated. "TRS stands ready to recalculate the pensions of the retired CUNY employees who are still due a revision."
CUNY did not provide a timeline for when retirees could expect a resolution.
'Continue to Prioritize'
“The University and its campuses have made significant progress in providing data in the new format requested by TRS and will continue to prioritize this project,” Mr. Sobrino said.
One exasperated educator who worked at the City College of Technology and Borough of Manhattan Community College, who wished to remain anonymous, said the problem should have been resolved years ago.
“No one seems to be able to find the data. Supposedly the Chancellor hasn’t been moving fast enough on this,” he said.
He added that for pensioners on a tight budget, every penny counts, especially during the current economic climate.
“We’re running in circles. I just want my money,” the former adjunct said.
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