The retiree chapter is a constantly evolving, meeting new challenges and learning from past practice. Its membership is a reflection of (1) the dynamic metropolitan area where most of its members reside and (2) the most diverse urban university in the world where all it members worked. While New York City is the hub of its membership, there are also concentrations elsewhere, most notably Florida, and hundreds of members scattered across the U.S. and the world.
The chapter’s webpage (https://psc-cuny.org/retirees) states the chapter’s goals:
The retiree’s chapter is enriched by the collective wisdom and experience of 2,800 plus members as teachers, professionals, scholars, learners, trade unionists and citizens of the world. Our goals are to draw on that experience; to strengthen our ties to a university whose curriculum, governance structures and outreach to a diverse student body we helped to build; to integrate our chapter’s activities into that of a progressive academic union; to fashion alliances with other retiree advocacy organizations; and to safeguard and enhance the safety net so vital to us as retirees – Social Security, Medicare and health benefits, pensions and the Welfare Fund. At our monthly meetings we address issues and present speakers on academic, labor, political, cultural and economic topics that reflect these goals and are of interest to our members.
The chapter has worked hard to enhance these goals and to look, with a critical eye, at both achievements and areas for significant improvement
Communications: Turning the Page
The retirees are different than campus-based chapters – no longer in active university service, scattered across the city, nation and globe rather than concentrated on a campus and for the most part only accessible by U.S. mail, and electronic communication.
Given the dispersed character of our membership, our newsletter, Turning the Page, has become the glue of the chapter. We’re blessed with a tenacious, smart editor, Joan Greenbaum (and a newspaper collective of Mike Frank and Dave Kotelchuck -- article selection; Josh Brown -- original illustrations; and Bill Friedheim, layout and graphics). Each issue chronicles the previous month’s chapter meeting, features upcoming events, reports on issues important to senior life, solicits original articless from members of diverse expertise covering the PSC/labor/social justice/political beat and amplifies the voices of members who push across borders from work to retirement – and reflect on what it means.
(Approximately 100 back issues of the newsletter are available here.)
The Retiree Executive Committee (EC) has a unique advantage among PSC chapters: The luxury of leaning heavily on members who before retirement were leaders and activists in their chapters, in the central PSC and in college/university governance bodies. But it is not simply a body of the usual suspects, but one that welcomes retirees new to PSC and CUNY activism.
The nineteen members of the newly elected Retiree EC are almost evenly split by gender; represent a cross section of CUNY faculty and professional titles (and even one former Hunter High School teacher); and add new retirees who enhance a cadre of chapter veterans. But while doing better, the EC needs to develop a plan to attract more professional staff, adjuncts and members of color.
Over the past year, the body has acted as a collective in best sense of the word; Decisions mainly by consensus, hard work the norm, imagination and a lifetime of relevant experience informing discussions, shared responsibility.
All members are welcome to participate in meetings of the Executive Committee, which convenes 10:30 am to 12 pm on the day of each monthly chapter meeting (except January and June)
Chapter Programs: Meetings, Luncheons and Much More
Our chapter meets the first Monday of the month during the academic year in the PSC Union Hall from 1-3 pm and in January and June for luncheons now held at the Graduate Center. These meetings and events attract anywhere from 50 to 120 members, addressing issues and presenting speakers on academic, labor, political, cultural and economic topics that are of interest to PSC retirees.
Over the 2018-19 academic year, we took advantage of CUNY’s academic riches, enlisting university researchers and scholars to address our members on topics as diverse as the Green New Deal, the demise of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler, the political landscape before and after the November 2018 elections, reimagining labor and electoral politics, neo-liberalism and K-16 education in the age of Trumps and the state of our union and the labor movement. Two speakers focused on New York City. In February, Tom Angotti, now a PSC retiree, dissected the housing crisis in a presentation entitled “NY Underwater: Housing and Development -- Who Swims and Who Drowns. “ And in April, Pulitzer prizewinner Mike Wallace spoke on his latest book: A talk providing a historical tour (metaphorically) of Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919. In May, the focus was on the good and welfare of our chapter members, featuring four speakers on issues ranging from healthcare to Welfare Fund benefits to community resources for retirees.
In addition to our regular monthly programs, we enhanced our menu of chapter offerings with walking tours, a theater outing and a day of baseball and beer at Citi Field. (Miracle of miracles, the Mets actually won for the first time since we began organizing outings to Citi Field)
The chapter also hosts two book groups, a creative writing group and a “transitions group” that explores the opportunities and challenges in or lives as we move from work to retirement.
Member Involvement in Union Work
With personal histories in some cases tracing back to the two organizations that preceded the Professional Staff Congress – the Legislative Conference and the United Federation of College Teachers -- and to the founding of the PSC itself in 1972, it is not surprising that retirees have such a high profile in the current iteration of the union.
In the recent past, it was retirees who created two new PSC/CUNY-wide committees – Safety Net and Environmental Justice – that have made the PSC a player in these important social justice movements. The theme of this year’s June luncheon – the Green New Deal – reflects the work of the Environmental Justice Committee. The Safety Net Committee continues to work in alliances to defend and expand vital social programs, many of fundamental importance to seniors. With mixed results but lots of energy, the committee has pushed for labor backing for passage of single payer healthcare in New York State – the New York Health Act.
Chapter Executive Committee members have also chaired or served as active members of the Legislative, Solidarity, Academic Freedom, International and Archive Committees.
One Exec member serves as the PSC Webmaster and, as such, participates with PSC professional staff as a member of the Communication and Website Committees. Another is the long-standing treasurer of the PSC-CUNY Welfare Fund and a second has served multiple three-year terms on its Advisory Board. Two have logged more than a decade as PSC representatives on the NYC Central Labor Council.
While not technically part of the bargaining unit, retirees have marched, picketed, lobbied and organized in support of union demands – particularly 7K for adjuncts – in the currents contract campaign
In sum, the chapter is highly visible and active in the work of the union and the NYC labor movement.
Retirees contributions to PSC-CUNY Cope, the political arm of the union, are down. Still retirees contribute more than any other chapter. Yet our per-capita contributions lag behind those of many PSC chapters. At this critical political juncture, we need a planned, dedicated campaign to raise more funds for PSC-CUNY Cope in the 2019-20 academic year. Our members are passionate about higher education, labor and social justice issues. Witness our presence in numbers in Albany, at City Hall and the local offices of city, state and federal elected officials. That passion and activism can surely translate into increased per capita contributions to PSC-CUNY Cope.
Affiliations and Alliances
We are active in the NYSUT Retiree Council and a number of senior advocacy organizations including New York State and City Chapters of the Alliance for Retired Americans (NYSARA & NYCARA), NY Senior Action and the Committee of Municipal Retiree Organizations (COMRO). On June 14th, COMRO is honoring its outgoing chair and many-decade PSC activist, John Hyland. After more than a decade, Jim Perlstein, who cultivated many of our ties with state and city senior advocacy and labor organizations, is stepping down as chair of the PSC Solidarity Committee,
Scores of CUNY retirees in the NYC Teachers Retirement System (TRS) cannot collect their full pension because the CUNY Payroll Office has not provided the accurate final salary history that TRS needs to calculate each individual’s monthly payments.
TRS is a defined-benefit plan. Benefits are based on salary history, age, years of employment, and other factors. Before TRS can calculate monthly pension payments, the CUNY Payroll Office, if applicable, must provide that final salary history so that the calculation includes any back pay from the 2010-17 contract owed through the 4/20/17 salary increase.
About a dozen retirees attended a Board of Trustees public hearing on Monday, December 3. Four testified and a fifth, who could not attend, submitted written testimony. Each presented a compelling personal story of their years of service to CUNY, only to have their full TRS pensions put on hold.
B.OT. members were shamed. On the spot, they set up a meeting, with the Interim Vice Chancellor for Human Resources, Margaret Egan. Some progress was made, but seven months later the issue is only partly resolved. The chapter has been persistent on this matter, but the reality is that the central PSC office and principal officers must take a much more aggressive and active role to resolve this injustice to members who served the university and its students for many decades.
For years, a Florida branch organized a February “Pension and Benefits” luncheon that brought retirees together PSC retirees from across the state. But there is no longer a critical mass of members on the ground to do the work. We’re still reaching out trying to recruit a core of Florida activists who can make this happen.
The Executive Committee of our chapter argued for a dues change, because fulltime annual fees have not gone up in over 20 years. We also wanted to create a category so that part-time retirees could join with us.
In April the PSC Delegate Assembly (DA) passed a resolution agreeing to a modest increase for retiree full-time members from $71 to $85, and for the first time created a part-time dues option with an annual rate of $40. The increase of $14 to $85 is much less that rate of inflation since the last dues hike more than two decades ago. The April resolution was only the first step in a two-step process. The PSC Constitution requires that the proposal for the increases must next be approved by a two-thirds vote at a special meeting of the PSC DA – and that the entire PSC membership must be given at least 21 days of notice before that special DA. The PSC has set the special DA for Thursday, June 20, 7 PM, and has notified the entire membership. All members are welcome to attend the special DA. If there is a quorum and the vote meets the two-thirds threshold, the dues increase would take effect in September.
Widening the Circle of Activists
We’ve recruited new voices onto our recently elected Executive Committee and step-by step broadened the circle of activists beyond the usual suspects. But we could still do better – much better!
We need to address:
• Diversifying our leadership and membership;
• Building alliances and sharing work with other retiree groups and advocates.
• Reviving the Florida Branch;
• Achieving justice for our TRS pensioners;
• Promoting political activism and increasing our per capita PSC-CUNY Cope contributions.