Retiree Chapter: End-of-Year Report, 2016-17

Updated: August 31, 2017
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Membership
Membership surged to 2,808, an increase of 93 members for the year 2016-17. The previous year the chapter grew by 36 members. This year’s bump in membership is largely due to more aggressive and consistent outreach to pre-retirees. [Since this report came out in June, 2017, membership jumped by 40 more retirees, to 2,848 as of 8/31/17.]

For more than a decade, the chapter has been at a disadvantage recruiting new members because the City University has been reluctant to provide us with accurate and ongoing lists of new retirees. Deborah Bell, the PSC Executive Director, is pushing CUNY to provide us with updated lists. If that happens, it will enhance our outreach and lead to even bigger membership increases.

Most of our retirees are drawn from the ranks of full-time faculty on tenure lines. There are moderate numbers of professional staff, but we need to figure out how to attract more (including from Equal Opportunity Centers). What we wrote in the 2015-16 end-of-the-year report about 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.

Executive Committee
Collegiality and hard work characterize an activist Executive Committee. The energy of the nineteen-member Executive Committee is an outgrowth of its cumulative history of union engagement and leadership, which for many stretches back to the sixties (and the PSC’s precursor organizations: the Legislative Conference and the United Federation of College Teachers). The body is diverse, divided almost equally along gender lines, with new retirees joining chapter veterans. There is both representation from professional staff (2) and, for the first time, adjuncts (1), but those numbers need to grow. While the EC is multi-racial, it needs to recruit many more people of color to leadership positions.

Chapter Meetings and Luncheons
The chapter organizes monthly programs, September through June with attendance growing to its highest level in years. Meetings are in the PSC Union Hall, except January and June when we have our annual mid-winter and late-spring luncheons, usually at John Jay College. Both 2017 luncheons exceeded one hundred reservations. Because of a scheduling problem at John Jay, the June luncheon, at the smaller PSC Union Hall, would have attracted even more, but had to be capped at 105. Both the monthly programs and semi-annual luncheons 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.

Our year of programs started with a report on the state on the union, drew on CUNY authors and award-winning poets, explored healthcare and prison reform, promoted advocacy to defend and expand the safety net, analyzed labor’s role in the 2016 election, took a critical look at government surveillance from the fifties to the present, addressed the continuing attacks on public higher education and will conclude with an award-winning author and CUNY colleague, Blanche Wiesen Cook, speaking on Eleanor Roosevelt at our June Luncheon.

The chapter’s programmatic reach extended beyond monthly meetings, with multiple walking tours, two book groups, a writing group, a theater party and day at the ballpark (where, at Citi Field, the Mets snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with a ninth inning meltdown).

Member Involvement in Union Work
Retirees, drawing on a legacy of decades of labor activism, continue to have a high profile in in the work of the union.

Retirees played a decisive role in the formation of two newer union committees – Safety Net and Environmental Justice.

Building on the large PSC presence in the 2014 Peoples Climate March in NYC in 2014, retirees helped mobilize the close to 100 PSC members who marched in the April 29th PCM in Washington, D.C.

Below, this report details the work of the chapter in collaboration with the Safety Net Committee in response to attacks on the ACA, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Chapter Executive Committee members 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. Other Exec Committee members serve on the PSC-CUNY Welfare Fund and its Advisory Board. Retiree EC members are PSC representatives on the NYC Central Labor Council.

Retirees have also responded to the impending threat of court suits that seek to strip agency fee payments – and hence substantial revenue – from public sector unions. About two-dozen chapter members have agreed to be trained for the PSC’s “adhesion” campaign, which means going back to their old campuses to talk to in-service colleagues about the importance of “sticking to the union.” This is a particularly urgent task in anticipation of a negative Supreme Court decision next spring.

In sum, the chapter is well integrated into the work of the union and the NYC labor movement.

Political Action
Retirees over the years have contributed more to PSC-CUNY Cope, the political arm of the union, than all of the other chapters combined. This year was the exception – until now.

Although a letter under the signature of the chapter chair was written months ago with a specific pitch to retirees, it was not sent by the PSC (through NYSUT) until early May.

Retirees responded generously to the letter, contributing $11,312 by May 31st. Contributions ranged from $10 to $200, with a critical mass giving $80 or more. We fully expect that even more checks are in the mail.

One area where our political efforts have not diminished is lobbying on higher education and social issues on behalf of the PSC, whether in Albany, at City Hall or the borough offices of city, state and congressional representatives. And we have expanded our safety net advocacy.

Safety Net Campaign
With Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act and other safety net programs in the crosshairs of the 115th Congress, the chapter, working with the Safety Net Working Group, mobilized members to take political action. Given the louder and louder drumbeat of cutbacks and privatization, we urged members to become 15-minute activists by making phone calls to their representatives in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. We developed talking points and scripts for these calls.

In addition, we scheduled face-to-face meetings at district offices with congresspersons in the NYC metropolitan area and both U,S. senators. Two of our monthly programs were dedicated to the campaign, one featuring Prof. Eric Kingson (Syracuse University), a founder of Social Security Works, and a second, enlisting Prof. Len Rodberg (retired, Queens), a leading proponent of single-payer healthcare.

The assault by the 115th congress and executive branch continues – and so does our mobilization of members.

Communications
We are not a campus-based chapter. Members are dispersed across the nation; some even overseas. There is face-to-face communication at chapter meetings and luncheons, but this represents only a small minority of our membership. Our newsletter, of necessity, is the main channel of membership communication.

Last June, after a membership contest, we re-named the newsletter Turning the Page. Under the direction of the indefatigable Joan Greenbaum, now in her second year as editor, our monthly newsletter chronicles chapter programs, reports on union and retiree issues and has become an important forum for retiree expression. Many members have found their voices in the newsletter, contributing meaningful pieces about their transition from work to retirement.

Our 2015-16 end-of-year report, however, flagged a problem with newsletter distribution. The newsletter (which includes the notice for monthly programs) at one time was mailed to all members, but at significant cost, particularly as postal rates escalate almost annually. More than half the membership had chosen to receive it by email. But what we soon found out, using software that tracks this, is that a very low percentage actually opened the email and even fewer clicked through to open the newsletter online. Hence, we made a decision last June to mail the print newsletter to all members, even those who received it by email. Almost immediately attendance spiked at our monthly meetings and ancillary programs.

But a few members, who have not experienced problems receiving the newsletter when it is sent digitally, have requested that they only get it electronically. We told them that we would re-visit the issue – and now we have. Effective with the September 2017 issue, we are giving members the option of only receiving it digitally. They can do so by going to a form on the PSC website at psc-cuny.org/RetireeNewsletter. This will save money (and trees).

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.

Two members of our EC, John Hyland and Jim Perlstein, have been instrumental in creating a Retirees Roundtable and organizing forum on Cross-Generational Economic Insecurity on May 19, 2017 at the Murphy Institute. The chapter was a co-sponsor of the forum. The New York Retirees Roundtable, organized more than a year ago under the auspices of the NYC Central Labor Council and CUNY’s Murphy Institute, continues to meet, bringing together retiree advocacy groups for what hopefully will become a vital monthly exchanges of information, tactics and strategies.

Florida Branch
In February, our Florida Branch orchestrated another successful annual benefits seminar and three-course luncheon at the Lakeside Terrace in Boca Ratan. This is now a yearly event held on the second Monday every February.

Award
Last fall, the International Labor Communications Association (ILCA) announced the winners to its annual awards contest,

2nd Place: General Excellence: Single Issue Publication: State/Other
DEFENDING THE SOCIAL SAFETY NET: A CALL TO ACTION
By Social Safety Net Working Group, PSC Retirees’ Chapter

This is quite a feather in our cap. The ILCA competition is national, encompassing thousands of locals.

Widening the Circle of Activists
Step-by-slow-step we have widened the circle of activists beyond the Executive Committee, mainly as a result of our ongoing campaign in response to the attacks on the ACA, Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid. It is no longer just the usual suspects who visit congressional offices, make phone calls and play an active role in mapping out our safety net strategy.

Ongoing Issues
We need to be better at:
• Defining short and long term goals;
• Drawing on the particular experience and skill-set of retirees in defense of the union in an era of escalating anti-labor attacks;
• Engaging members of color, retired professional staff and retired adjuncts in the work of the chapter;
• Reaching out to members beyond the NYC Metropolitan area;
• Building alliances and sharing work with other retiree groups and advocates;
• Distributing the newsletter widely and cost-effectively.