Navigating the system
CUNY adjuncts and other part-timers are eligible to join the New York City Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) Qualified Pension Plan and Tax-Deferred Annuity programs from their first semester at CUNY.
The TRS plan includes a pension, death benefits and a disability pension. It’s funded by the employee and the employer. You can get enrollment forms from your campus Human Resources (HR) office or the TRS website.
Because of the part-time, contingent nature of adjunct work, there are important issues adjuncts should be aware of to protect their pension rights. Below you will find detailed information about 1) joining the TRS Qualified Pension Plan (QPP) 2) “buying back” service credit for time worked with CUNY or any public New York state entity prior to becoming a TRS member and 3) making sure you receive credit for service in all your positions.
PENSION 101 FOR ADJUNCTS
If you enrolled with TRS after March 31, 2012, you joined as a TIER VI member. Vesting as a TIER VI member occurs after five years of credited service, thanks to a change in the law that went into effect this year. (Previously, TIER VI members needed 10 years of credited service before they vested.) Vesting means you have earned enough service credit to qualify for a pension benefit once you meet the minimum age requirements established by TRS. Therefore, you are able to file for a pension with TRS once you have attained five years of credited service and are over the age of 55. If you are under age 63 and have less than 30 years of credited service when you retire, the amount of your pension will be reduced based on your age at retirement. If you do not vest and you leave CUNY, you will be able to receive the contributions you made plus interest in the form of either cash or rollover to an IRA.
TRS translates the time you work for CUNY as an adjunct or other part-timer to service credit differently than it does for full-time employees. See below to determine how much service you are credited with, based on the hours worked.
TRS Adjunct Service Conversion
- 360 paid adjunct hours = 1 year of credited service (the maximum you will get in one year)
- 240 paid adjunct hours = 8 months of credited service
- 180 paid adjunct hours = 6 months of credited service
- 90 paid adjunct hours = 3 months of credited service
- 60 paid adjunct hours = 2 months of credited service
- 45 paid adjunct hours = a month and a half of credited service
‘BUYING BACK’ SERVICE
This is also how TRS calculates service credit when you buy back credited service. You have to become a TRS member first and then, two calendar years after your initial enrollment, you are eligible to buy back the service you have had with CUNY and/or another state public entity before you enrolled in TRS.
The way most people buy back service credit is that, once they are a TRS member for two years, they contact TRS to request and complete a buy back application. TRS will seek out your employment records for the colleges and public employers you list on your application. Once it analyzes the records it receives from those public employers, TRS will send you a cost letter. The letter specifies what you are able to buy (in years), the cost, the deadline to pay the money and ways you can pay. The amount you pay includes interest, which is compounded annually.
However, you may also purchase prior service credit if you have less than two years of membership service to save on the interest that accumulates on the cost of prior service. The prior service will not be posted to your account until you reach two years of membership service.
Make sure you receive credit from TRS for all your service.
TRS QPP enrollment is a two-step process. First, you complete the information online. Then TRS will contact your HR office(s) to obtain a letter that confirms you are active with the college(s) you listed. Once TRS receives the letter from HR, it will finish enrolling you in the QPP.
Adjuncts should make sure they check their paystubs to verify that the mandatory contributions are being deducted and sent to TRS.
Also, and this is very important, if you begin work at any other CUNY college or in a different classification at the same college, you must go to HR and provide your QPP number and make sure they begin contributing to TRS through that college or through the different classification line as well.
For example, let’s say you enrolled in TRS as an adjunct at John Jay College, and you observed in your pay stubs that the mandatory employee contributions to TRS were taking place. Then, you also started as an adjunct at Baruch College but never went to Baruch HR to make sure they deducted mandatory contributions into TRS for your Baruch adjunct work. When you are about to retire and TRS obtains your service records, TRS will calculate that there are membership deficits (mandatory contributions and earnings that you need to pay) because you were a TRS member in the QPP and only paid in through John Jay but never paid in through Baruch.
Although CUNY should ensure colleges share this information or maintain it centrally, they do not. If you have asked HR to make these contributions based on a new college or a new line, and they don’t show up in your paycheck, feel free to reach out to the PSC Contract Enforcement Department for assistance. Contact information is below.
It is important to note that CUNY and TRS process adjunct service information manually because CUNY has not invested in automating payroll for TRS adjuncts. PSC is advocating for CUNY to automate this process and submit information to TRS centrally. Until they do so, it is important for adjuncts to know their rights and self-advocate, with the assistance of PSC.
You can enroll in TRS by clicking a join or enroll button on the bottom of the TRS homepage or by going to tinyurl.com/TRS-enrollment. Please make sure you are enrolling in the QPP. Again, after you have enrolled, make sure you check your pay stubs to verify the mandatory contributions are being deducted. Also, if you begin work at any other CUNY college and you are a part of the TRS QPP, please go to HR and make sure you provide your QPP number and contribute through that college as well.
You should reach out to TRS first with your questions about pension issues. If after reaching out to TRS your question has not been answered or resolved, you may contact Sandra Zaconeta at the PSC-CUNY Welfare Fund, by emailing [email protected].
If you have a problem working with a CUNY college HR department on a pension issue and need assistance, you may contact Greg Douros, a PSC contract enforcement coordinator, by emailing [email protected].