When Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature approved a new, reduced tier of public-worker pension benefits on March 15, 2012, many CUNY adjuncts suddenly faced an urgent deadline of which they were not aware.
Adjuncts, unlike full-time faculty and staff, are not required to join a pension plan when they are first hired at CUNY. They can sign up at that time, or later on, or not at all. But once Albany approved the new “Tier 6” pension plan, which reduced benefits for future pension system members, it meant that any CUNY adjunct who joined after March 31, 2012, would be covered by the new, inferior terms.
The PSC swiftly launched a campaign to get as many adjuncts as possible signed up with the Teachers Retirement System (TRS), the only pension they are eligible to join, before the deadline passed. A postcard with key information was quickly prepared and mailed out March 20 to adjuncts at their home addresses. Alerts went out in “This Week in the PSC,” in e-mail blasts, and in Clarion, which went to press shortly after Tier 6 was approved. Adjunct activists put out alerts via the PTCUNY listserv and other e-mail lists. PSC Coordinator for Pension and Health Benefits Jared Herst told Clarion that he and his assistant, Kim Lashley, fielded close to 300 calls and responded to 400 e-mails during the last ten days of March 2012. “The union really got the word out,” said longtime adjunct Shirley Frank, who signed up herself in the final days.
In 2010, the most recent year for which full figures have been published, about 1,200 CUNY adjuncts belonged to TRS. But this year, in the month of March alone, 559 people at CUNY became new members of TRS.
PSC activists also got the word out in person. CCNY Chapter Chair Alan Feigenberg sent out an e-mail to part-time colleagues on March 22, 2012, urging them to sign up right away. He also provided information from the union to CCNY’s Department of Human Resources; the HR department made its own efforts to spread the word. “They were wonderful about it,” Feigenberg recalled. “They didn’t respond as bureaucrats, but as really decent human beings.”
At Lehman, longtime adjunct Susan DiRaimo made the rounds in the English department, visiting fellow part-timers and helping five of her colleagues to file their papers before the deadline. “I’ve got a lot to thank her for,” one of DiRaimo’s colleagues told Clarion. “I’d been meaning to do it for a long time, and I got it done this time because Susan stayed in touch with me about [the deadline].”
Tier 6 requires higher employee contributions and promises a smaller payout upon retirement. Worst of all for CUNY adjuncts, it requires ten years of total credited service to qualify for benefits. Since it takes adjuncts longer to build up a full year of credited service, this means that under Tier 6, many adjuncts will not qualify for a pension until they have worked at CUNY for 20 years or more. Tier 6 is bad for all public employees, but its impact on adjuncts is especially harsh. The PSC has begun discussions with legislators in Albany about a possible repair bill to revise a part of Tier 6 that some observers say was unintended.