CUNY stiffs retirees
Last December PSC retirees blasted CUNY Board of Trustees (BOT) members for CUNY’s failure to send updated payroll information to the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS), leaving about two hundred TRS retirees receiving pension payments below what they were actually owed. CUNY employees who had retired between April 20, 2012, and January 2017 received whatever retroactive pay increase they had been due in January 2017, but the records of those increases and whatever pension deductions had been taken were not sent to TRS at the time.
More than two years later, in June 2019, retirees affected by the enduring payroll snafu submitted testimony to the board again about their plight, asserting that CUNY was sending a message that the University simply does not care about its former employees.
“The TRS pensioners victimized by CUNY Payroll devoted anywhere from 20 to 50 years of their adult work lives to CUNY,” PSC Retiree Chapter Chair Bill Friedheim said in testimony to the BOT at the June hearing at Hostos Community College. “They have taught, inspired, counseled, advised and made a difference in the lives of what is arguably the most diverse student body in the United States. By my calculation, that is cumulatively thousands of years of steadfast, hard work. Rather than gratitude from the university they served, they must wait – in some cases for years – to enjoy the fruits of a well-earned retirement.”
“This year, after speaking to a number of very responsible and credible officials at the TRS, it has become crystal clear that the fault indeed lies with the City University of New York’s administration,” said retired Queens College history professor John O’Brien in his written testimony in June. “The TRS does not have the necessary salary data to make the changes in the pension amount for me and everyone else in my position. CUNY has failed to do this. This is not some bargaining chip in a contract negotiation. This is money legally owed to us. With this injustice unresolved and unattended to for this amount of time, who can and must do anything about this? You – [the CUNY BOT] – this is your job.”
In early August, Friedheim, PSC Treasurer Sharon Persinger and PSC staff met with TRS representatives and learned that TRS had finally received sufficiently accurate payroll data on retired full-time CUNY instructional staff members that updated benefit amounts will begin to be paid this fall, starting with 37 full-time senior college retirees in September. Most of the rest of the full-time retirees should see increased benefit amounts in October and November.
“At the meeting with TRS, we learned how important accurate, detailed data are for the analysts to determine the correct benefit amounts,” said Persinger. “Also, some retirees apparently still owe the pension system some modest deduction amounts, because deductions were not calculated properly when retro pay was paid. For example, someone who had worked for 10 years as of January 2017 was eligible to have no further pension deduction taken at that point, but may owe deductions on the increased pay from several prior years before they hit the 10-year mark.”
Employees who still owe TRS deductions (about 35 of them) will be notified this fall with instructions on how to clear up the problem promptly.
Another persistent problem is that retroactive payroll data for retirees who worked as adjuncts, particularly those who worked at several different colleges, have not yet been fully reported to TRS. Therefore, TRS cannot yet project a date to pay increased benefits to those adjunct retirees. PSC will continue to monitor the status of payroll data and TRS’s payment projections for that group.
Terrence Quinn, a retired associate professor of education leadership at Queens College, said, “When CUNY takes all these years to update its employee records and still submits inaccurate information to TRS, then any reasonable person with any common sense would conclude CUNY fails to pay attention to its most basic task of record-keeping, and fails to pay respect to its employees. You have failed the test of effective management.”
Jane Mushabac, a retired professor of English at City Tech, added in her statement that it is “disrespectful and demeaning to have to ask over and over again for correct payments on my well-earned pension.”
“CUNY Payroll is a disaster area,” Friedheim said. “Management must held be accountable.”
In the meantime PSC representatives argued strongly in the August meeting that there should be service representatives at TRS dedicated to CUNY employees/retirees because the issues they face are very different from other employees TRS serves, largely department of education teachers and administrators.
TRS managers expressed a desire to be responsive to CUNY instructional staff who are members of TRS and will be reviewing their procedures. The union and the Retirees Chapter will continue to monitor their efforts.