FAQs: Pension Issues, PSC’s Pension Lawsuit against CUNY, and how to make sure CUNY makes the correct pension contributions for you
On May 2, 2023, the PSC filed a lawsuit against CUNY for its failure to properly deduct and submit pension contributions and records to TRS and TIAA.
What is the lawsuit about?
The lawsuit is part of PSC’s larger campaign to make CUNY fix its broken pension . The Professional Staff Congress is suing the City University of New York on behalf of our members because the CUNY administration has failed to properly deduct and submit pension contributions for hundreds of PSC members to the pension systems, leaving employees liable for make-up payments and interest that range from small amounts up to tens of thousands of dollars.
Specifically, PSC alleges that CUNY has:
- Failed to deduct and submit employee and employer pension contributions in a timely manner and in the correct amount.
- Repeatedly failed to deduct and remit contributions on retroactive salary increase payments.
- Repeatedly failed to maintain, update, and submit employee earnings records.
- Failed the basic task of properly enrolling its employees in the pension system on a timely basis.
We argue that through its failures to carry out these legal obligations, CUNY has violated the New York State Constitution, the New York State Education Law, and the New York City Administrative Code.
See the summons and complaint PSC filed to initiate the lawsuit.
What are the specifics of CUNY’s pension failures?
There are many, but here are some common cases. You can read a PSC member’s op-ed about her pension issues in the NY Daily News.
- If an employee selects TRS or TIAA for their pension plan, CUNY must enroll them in a timely manner. This has not happened on a consistent basis. There are cases of employees who signed up and CUNY did not enroll them for years, including instances where the employee notified them of the issue and CUNY still did not correct it. There are numerous cases of members that owe their pension system money up to $40,000 dollars plus interest due to CUNY’s mismanagement of their pensions.
- CUNY is required to enroll full-time employees in TRS after 30 days if the employee does not select TIAA. Members assume they have been enrolled and are often told by HR they are enrolled. But it later turns out that CUNY has failed to enroll them, leaving the members owing thousands of dollars plus interest when they discover the problem.
- For Tier VI members, CUNY is required to adjust the member’s contribution rate on their salary level for both TRS and TIAA. CUNY has not done this in a timely manner, causing members to incur deficits as their salary levels rise and appropriate contribution percentages are not increased on time.
- Adjuncts who sign up for TRS at one college with CUNY are often not aware that CUNY requires them to sign up again at other colleges where they work. Colleges usually do not inform adjuncts about this and thus no pension deductions are made. However, the member is still liable for those TRS contributions and thus adjuncts must make deficit payments when the problem is discovered years later. Even when full-time employees work at a college and then take adjunct positions at that same college, CUNY does not automatically deduct pension contributions for adjunct positions. For example, if a HEO member works full time at a CUNY college and is enrolled in TRS at that college, and then teaches a three credit hour course at that college as an adjunct, the college does not automatically deduct pension contributions from the adjunct position despite deducting from the full-time position. Years later, the member finds out from TRS that the member must make contributions with interest because of CUNY’s failure to deduct.
- For hundreds of adjuncts, CUNY has not deducted pension contributions from retro payments nor sent proper service records to TRS, causing the adjuncts to receive lower pensions than they are entitled to. These include retro payments from the 2010-2017 CBA and the 2017-2023 CBA.
- Unlike other employers who participate in TRS, the data system CUNY uses to communicate pension information is not compatible with TRS systems. This incompatibility results in inaccuracies, incomplete data, and significant time delays. For part-time employees, CUNY’s process is even more time-consuming and prone to errors. TRS must manually request information from each college while each college responds with information in different formats and some of it is sent using physical paper.
What is the PSC asking for in the lawsuit?
- That CUNY fix its pension system by establishing a centralized system to properly deduct and submit pension contributions and records in a timely manner for TRS and TIAA.
- That CUNY conduct an independent audit to identify any PSC members who, in the last ten years, have been adversely affected by CUNY’s failures mentioned in the lawsuit.
- That CUNY make whole any PSC members adversely affected by CUNY’s pension failures listed in the lawsuit, including the interest that members owe on missed contributions to the pension system through no fault of their own.
Does the lawsuit mean I don’t have to do anything to make sure CUNY has enrolled me and is making correct pension contributions on my behalf?
No. You should make sure CUNY enrolls you and makes correct contributions on your behalf. See answers to FAQs below.
Do I have to make deficit payments with interest right now or can I wait for the results of the lawsuit?
Once missed contributions are identified and payment plans given out, you will be required to make any deficit payments, including interest, either through a payment plan or lump sum payments. Not only is this immediate action required, but it’s also better to resolve the issue up front so interest payments do not keep mounting. If the lawsuit is successful, interest payments you made could be reimbursed. However, there is no guarantee the lawsuit will succeed, and the court process will take time.
What happens when an employee discovers a problem with their pension?
- Once a problem has been discovered, it has often taken members months to years to resolve these issues. It is a stressful, frustrating process that would be unnecessary if CUNY fulfilled its pension obligations.
- When missing contributions are discovered, TRS or TIAA must calculate the amount of money that is owed to make the pension contributions whole. To do this, they need all the missing service records from each college where the employee worked. Gathering this information from each college is a painstaking process. Often, college HR departments do not respond to TRS for months (three to six months is common). Some employees have had to continually remind the HR departments to send the information.
- Once TRS or TIAA have the proper service records, they calculate how much the deficit payment is, including interest, for the time between when the contribution should have been made and the time the contribution is actually made.
- Once a member receives the total amount of money owed from either TRS or TIAA, they must either make a post-tax lump sum payment (and lose the pre-tax benefit) or choose a payment plan where the deficit contributions are deducted from their paychecks over time in addition to their regular contributions. The longer the payment plan, the more the interest payments.
How do I know if my pension contributions are being taken out?
- You should check your enrollment status, contributions, and annual contributions with TRS or TIAA by logging in to your online account or creating one if you have not done so. While looking at your online account, you should also check your service record to make sure all years of work have been recorded.
- If you are Tier VI (hired on or after April 1, 2012), you can see the percentage deductions the college should be making for your salary level by looking at the chart for TRS or TIAA.
- If you are Tier IV (hired before April 1, 2012) and have worked over ten years, you will not see pension deductions on your pay statement because they end for the employee after ten years.
- You should check your pay statements to make sure the appropriate deductions for either TRS or TIAA and any supplemental fund contributions are being deducted. If you are having trouble interpreting your paycheck, please contact your college’s HR Department. If you don’t receive satisfactory information from HR, feel free to contact Greg Douros at the address below. You should also distinguish between supplemental retirement deductions (optional contributions to a separate retirement account) and pension deductions.
- You should actively monitor your paychecks to ensure that deductions are being taken out. It is not uncommon for deductions to end due to errors, title changes, or department changes.
EXAMPLES of how deductions appear on your pay statement:
TRS deductions could look like this:
- Pension: QPP, TRS PENS SYS Pension Standard, NYT Retirement Before Tax
- Supplemental Retirement: TDA (Tax Deferred Annuity)
TIAA deductions could look like this:
- Pension: ORP, CUNY ORP Before Tax, TIAAI PENS (414H)-STD (A)
- Supplemental Retirement: 403(b)
If your deduction looks different, please email Greg Douros, [email protected], with your name, phone number, and what your pension deduction is listed as. This will help us update this list.
What should adjuncts look out for when checking their deductions?
Adjuncts who teach at multiple schools need to ensure that each school is deducting their pension contributions by checking pay statements from each school. If you sign up at one college, the other colleges will not know until you notify them. Be prepared to follow up until you see deductions on your pay statements.
For those who have a full-time position and who also have an adjunct appointment, even at the same college, you must be extra vigilant that HR is deducting pension contributions from your adjunct hours. Often, colleges do not deduct these contributions from adjunct pay. There have been cases where deductions have been ignored for adjunct work or occur haphazardly.
For calculation of service credit for adjunct teaching hours, see Pensions for Adjuncts 101.
What should I do if I discover my college or colleges are not taking out pension contributions or that I am not enrolled in TRS or TIAA?
- Notify your college HR department immediately and make them aware of the issue so they can begin fixing it. Keep following up until the deductions appear.
- Email Contract Enforcement at the PSC. Include your name, phone number, TRS or TIAA account number, and a summary of the issue. Send the email to [email protected]
If this has happened to me in the past, what should I do?
Email Contract Enforcement at the PSC. Include your name, phone number, TRS/TIAA number, and a summary of the issue. Send the email to [email protected].
How can I support the PSC’s campaign for CUNY to fix its pension processes?
Everyone’s participation, even if you have not experienced any pension problems, will help make CUNY fix its pension system.
- Join PSC efforts and actions around CUNY’s pension issues as they occur.
- Let your chapter chair know you want to be involved.
- If you know colleagues who have been affected, have them contact the PSC.
- Voices of those affected by this issue are crucial for building support and winning a real change in CUNY’s pension system. This participation includes one or more of the following: writing elected officials, speaking with them, testifying at trial, or speaking with the press. If you are interested in learning more about how to make your voice heard, please email [email protected].
Published: September 26, 2023