Bill Friedheim, PSC retirees chapter chair, testifies about the TRS problem at a Board of Trustees hearing in June 2019.
In December of 2018, PSC retirees gathered at LaGuardia Community College to raise a problem with the CUNY Board of Trustees (BOT) at an open hearing. The problem, they said, was that CUNY had failed to provide updated payroll information for hundreds of PSC retirees to the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS), meaning that they were not receiving the proper amount in their regular pension payments.
In June of 2019, retirees converged again at Hostos Community College for another BOT hearing, raising the concern that the problem still hadn’t been fixed.
SHORT PENSION PAY
CUNY has still not sent payroll data to TRS reflecting retroactive pay due under the 2010–2107 collective bargaining agreement for several hundred retired adjuncts. And CUNY has still not provided TRS with any payroll data reflecting retro pay to adjuncts from 2017 to the present and has rebuffed repeated requests from the union to estimate a date by which this task will be accomplished. This failure has meant that hundreds of members, who gave years of their lives to CUNY, are still receiving smaller monthly pension payments than they have actually earned.
PSC has been meeting regularly with officials from both CUNY and TRS, pressing them to fix the problem. While progress has been made, several hundred retired adjuncts still have not had their pension payments corrected. Nearly 460 adjuncts from community colleges are still waiting for CUNY to send their updated 2010–2017 payroll information to the pension system, according to data provided to the union, and more than 200 retired adjuncts from senior colleges are in the same position.
“There is just incredible anger about this, off-the-charts anger,” said Bill Friedheim, the PSC retirees chapter chair. “People dedicate a good part of their professional lives to teaching, and what do they get in return when they retire? It’s kind of the back of the hand. CUNY does not see this as a particularly urgent issue. It’s particularly egregious because the most exploited part of the teaching labor force, adjuncts, are not only underpaid and exposed to difficult conditions [of] trying to scratch together a livelihood – then this. [It] is just another gross insult to the labor force.”
Friedheim has been fighting CUNY on this issue since 2018. He told Clarion that the CUNY administration has come up with various excuses for why it has not fixed the situation.
“Part of the problem is that payroll is really not centralized and there are differences from college to college. It’s not automated,” he said.
But that isn’t an acceptable rationale for the delay, he said, noting that it is common for adjuncts in other university systems to teach at more than one location.
“The problem is CUNY payroll. I don’t know how much of it is incompetence or contempt of the adjuncts involved,” Friedheim said. “I think it’s largely incompetence and underfunding. CUNY payroll is just not up for the job.”
Union officials point out that TRS has also demanded that CUNY provide it with payroll information in a form different from the way CUNY tracks it, which is another factor contributing to the sluggish response.
For the last several years, this issue has been the focus of activism from the union’s retirees chapter. The next step in the fight, Friedheim said, is to get more of the union involved, including current adjuncts whose future pensions may be impacted.
“A larger group of people have to take ownership of this,” he said. “It has to be an issue where we build some kind of union solidarity.”
Meanwhile, the PSC’s top officers and executive staff are pushing CUNY to fix the issue promptly.
“We appreciate that CUNY is working to address this,” PSC Executive Director Dean Hubbard told Clarion. “But it has taken far too long and the administration needs to address this with greater urgency.”