The retirees’ chapter is growing, full of energy and diverse in its programming, but needs to improve in several key areas.
Membership stands at 2,875, an increase of several hundred since 2015. For many years, we were at a disadvantage recruiting new members because the City University’s did not provide the PSC with accurate and updated lists of new retirees. That is changing, which together with more attention to recruitment on our part, has led to a steady increase in membership over recent years. Every new retiree gets an invitation to join and a team of retirees attends pre-retirement conferences to promote the chapter.
The vast majority of our membership is drawn from full-time faculty on tenure lines. While growing numbers of professional staff join the chapter, we can do much better attracting HEOs, CLTs and EOCs (Equal Opportunity Centers). What we wrote in the end-of-the-year report for the last year on adjunct representation is still true:
Adjuncts are almost invisible in the chapter. Part of the problem is that there is no clear definition of what constitutes retirement for adjuncts. Leadership of the chapter has met – and will continue to meet – with adjunct officers on the PSC’s Executive Council to explore ways of engaging adjuncts in the chapter.
The Retiree EC is a collective body in the best sense of the word. A nineteen-member Executive Committee, characterized by hard work, mutual respect and collegiality, shares workload and responsibilities and makes a majority of its decisions by consensus. The activism of EC members in many cases traces back half a century to the sixties and seventies (and the PSC’s precursor organizations: the Legislative Conference and the United Federation of College Teachers). The body is evenly split along gender lines, draws on new retirees to enhance a cadre of chapter veterans, almost all of whom (both new and veteran) were chapter leaders as in-service members. There is both representation from professional staff (2) and, for the first time, adjuncts (1), but those numbers are still too small. Only two of nineteen members of the Retiree EC are people of color. With an election coming in April 2019, the chapter needs to attract more people of color to leadership positions.
Chapter Programs: Meetings, Luncheons and Much More
September through June, the chapter organizes monthly programs that reflect the chapter’s goals, as stated on the retiree webpage (psc-cuny.org/retirees):
The retiree’s chapter is enriched by the collective wisdom and experience of 2,700 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.
The chapter generally meets the first Monday of every month during the academic year with the exception of two semi-annual luncheons, usually held the second Monday of January and June. Most all of our programs fill the PSC Union Hall, with luncheons often in excess of 100 members. Programs in 2017-18, drawing on speakers from labor, political and social movements, senior advocacy organizations and academia (including several CUNY authors), explored topics as varied as the state of the labor movement, “The End of Open Admissions,” the 1970s fiscal crisis, food politics, the immigrant sanctuary movement, the landscape of retiree/senior services and programs in NYC and “Racism, Resistance And Activist Scholarship In Dangerous Times.”
For many years, the site of our January and June luncheons was John Jay College. But in solidarity with food workers in a bitter labor dispute with MBJ catering at the college, we decided to move our June 11 luncheon to the PSC Union Hall. Film scholar Jonathan Buchsbaum, Professor of Media Studies at Queens College and the Graduate Center, author of numerous books on cinema and curator of the PSC’s Labor Goes to the Movies series, will explore the political dimension of film from the 1930s to the present time.
The chapter engages members in activities beyond monthly meetings. Once again, we organized multiple walking tours, two book groups, a writing group, a theater party and an outing at the Citi Field to watch the Mets.
Member Involvement in Union Work
Not surprisingly, with a chapter populated with so many veteran labor and political activists, PSC retirees have a high profile in in the work of the union.
Most notably, retirees over the past several years played a formative role in the creation of two union committees – Safety Net and Environmental Justice.
The chapter (as noted below) has worked closely with the Safety Net Committee in alliances to defend vital social programs in the age of Trump and proactively push for expansion of healthcare, most notably advocacy for single payer in New York state.
Chapter Executive Committee members have 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 serves on the PSC-CUNY Welfare Fund Advisory Board and several are PSC representatives on the NYC Central Labor Council.
With a negative decision expected by the Supreme Court in the Janus case, several dozen retirees have gone back to their old campuses to talk to in-service colleagues about the importance of “sticking to the union” – and in a few instances, made home visits.
In sum, the chapter is well integrated into the work of the union and the NYC labor movement.
Retirees over the years have contributed more to PSC-CUNY Cope, the political arm of the union, than all of the other chapters combined. We continue to be a visible presence, in Albany, at City Hall or the borough offices of city, state and congressional representatives, on higher education and social issues on behalf of the PSC and CUNY and have taken a leadership role on safety net advocacy.
Safety Net Campaign
Once again, with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, ACA, SNAP and other federal safety net programs under assault, the chapter, with the Safety Net Working Group taking the lead, has mobilized members politically (phone calls, letter writing, emails, office visits, etc.). But in recent months, with a grim political landscape at the federal level and finding more fertile ground closer to home, the chapter has made advocacy for the single payer New York Health Act (NYHA) a priority. In May, at the behest of the chapter and the Social Safety Net Working Group, the PSC Delegate Assembly passed a unanimous resolution in support of the NYHA “as a work in progress.” On Monday, June 5, chapter activists joined more than 500 people from across the state to lobby for the NYHA, which has passed the NY State Assembly four years in a row but is stalled in the NY State Senate where Republicans have prevented the bill from coming to the floor (despite co-sponsorship by 31 state senators, one short of a majority)
With members dispersed across the nation (and some overseas), our newsletter, Turning the Page (TTP), of necessity, is the main channel of membership communication.
In addition to chronicling chapter programs, reporting on retiree issues, covering the PSC/labor/social justice beat and promoting senior advocacy, TTP under its unflagging editor, Joan Greenbaum, has become an important forum for retiree expression as members push across borders from work to retirement – and reflect on what it means.
Affiliations and Alliances
Members of the chapter Executive Committee maintained an active role in NYSUT retiree affairs, served on the Executive Board of NYCARA, chaired and served as delegates to COMRO, and participated in the NYC and NYS Senior Action Council.
Over the past two years, two members of our EC, John Hyland and Jim Perlstein, working with the NYC Central Labor Council and CUNY’s Murphy Institute, have been central to fostering a Retirees Roundtable. The Roundtable brings together retiree advocacy groups for what hopefully will become regular exchanges of information, tactics and strategies.
For many years, under the leadership of Paul Levitz and his executive board, the Florida branch has organized annual “benefits” luncheons every February for PSC retirees living in the state and snowbirds. After many years, Paul and his board are stepping down. They originally stepped forward to fill a void in Florida retiree activity several years ago, continuing their work for many more years than the chapter expected and they anticipated. We owe them a big debt of gratitude. We are currently assessing the chapter’s presence in Florida. The chapter seeks to recruit a new group of retirees to follow their example, by stepping forward to lead PSC retiree activity in the state.
For two decades, retiree dues have remained the same — $71 per year. If our dues had kept up with inflation, they would be set at $108 per year. While retirees comprise slightly over 11% of PSC membership, our dues only account for a tiny fraction of the union’s annual income. While a case could be made for raising dues, the reality is that a 52% dues increase to a $108 would probably result in a loss of membership and revenue. How do we weigh the need for a dues increase with the probability that a significant jump might yield less revenue? We’ll explore this question over the next year, including a survey of retiree membership.
Widening the Circle of Activists
We’ve enlarged the scope of our activities and monthly meetings, engaged more members in planning our programs, amplified diverse retiree voices in our newsletter, recruited members in the age of Janus into the union’s adhesion program and mobilized more retirees as advocates for an expanded safety net at a time of threatened cutbacks. Step-by-slow-step we have widened the circle of activists beyond the Executive Committee and the usual suspects. But we could still do better – much better
We need to be better at:
• Defining and setting goals;
• Diversifying our leadership and membership;
• Reaching out to members beyond the NYC Metropolitan area;
• Turning programmatic themes into a retiree activism:
• Building alliances and sharing work with other retiree groups and advocates.
Chair/ PSC Retirees
Submitted June 7, 2018