Long-serving full-time faculty and professional staff at CUNY who are participants in TIAA-CREF or similar plans now have a new retirement option: phased retirement.
Under a three-year pilot program negotiated by the PSC and CUNY, eligible full-time faculty may take a voluntary phased retirement of one, two or three years in which they carry 50% of workload and receive 50% of pay. HEO-series employees and full-time CLTs can take a phased retirement for either six months or one year, at 80% of workload and 80% of pay. The decision to fully retire after the phase-in period is irrevocable.
To participate, faculty and staff must be enrolled in the Optional Retirement Plan (TIAA-CREF or the alternate funding vehicles with MetLife or Guardian); must be at least 65 years of age; must have tenure, a CCE or 13.3b status; and have at least 15 years of continuous, pensionable service. Unfortunately, current New York State law does not allow a phased retirement option for participants in the Teachers Retirement System (TRS). According to CUNY, more than 800 faculty and over 100 professional staff met these criteria as of October 2011, which gives some idea of the potential scope of the new program.
“For people who can financially afford this option, this can be a good way to transition into retirement,” said Jared Herst, PSC Coordinator for Pension & Benefits. “But you need to be sure about your decision, because it’s irrevocable.” If you take phased retirement, you can decide to fully retire sooner, but not later, than your original target date.
The financial aspects of phased retirement are important because, while “phasing,” employees remain active employees and will not have access to their primary CUNY retirement annuity. In fact, retirement contributions will continue from both CUNY and employees, based on their reduced rate of pay. Those who are phasing will have access to funds in their supplemental retirement accounts, because they are older than 59 and 1/2. Employees may also have access to other sources of income. Explicitly, in the language of the agreement, PSC and CUNY encourage employees to consult a financial professional and/or retirement counselor and review all aspects before making the decision to phase.
Employees on phased retirement will retain their rank and their tenure, CCE or 13.3b status until they complete the phasing period. They will also be entitled to the same health insurance and PSC-CUNY Welfare Fund benefits as full-time employees, under the same terms as full-time employees, and will have largely the same access to college facilities as before.
To be approved for phased retirement, faculty members are required to meet with their department chairs and HEOs or CLTs with their supervisors to reach a mutually agreeable configuration of their reduced work schedules. Any subsequent changes in a member’s part-time workload configuration must be approved by the department chair or supervisor.
Those taking phased retirement will continue to have access to Travia Leave and can use it in one of two ways. Travia Leave is a long-standing option that permits employees to be compensated for the partial value of unused sick days, up to a maximum of one semester, before officially retiring. Those taking phased retirement can combine it with Travia Leave by taking their Travia as a lump sum payment at the end of the phasing period or can stay on payroll for up to one semester (depending on the amount of unused sick days) at the end of the phased retirement period, at 100% pay. The combination of phased retirement and Travia leave cannot exceed three years, and requires an irrevocable choice of full retirement at the end of the phasing period.
The agreement between PSC and CUNY to establish the phased-retirement program was reached April 26. Those interested in participating starting next Fall, had until May 15 to submit a notice of intent to their department chair/supervisor and a formal application had to be submitted by June 7. In the course of the negotiations, the union succeeded in gaining coverage for library and counseling faculty and for professional staff, who were not included in management’s original proposal.
For BMCC Professor of Biology Edith Robbins, the initial availability of phased retirement presented a difficult choice. Robbins, 71, has taught at BMCC since 1968 and serves as the biology team leader in her school’s department of sciences where she decides on textbooks, online homework assignments and other issues related to overseeing 50 sections of biology classes per semester.
Faculty who take phased retirement may arrange their schedule to teach full-time for one semester and be off the other – something Robbins said she would like to do in order to go on more bird-watching excursions around the world. But despite increasing frustrations with Pathways (see pages 6-7) and CUNYfirst (see pages 10-11), Robbins eventually decided not to take phased retirement – at least, not yet.
“The irrevocability of the decision weighed heavily on me,” she told Clarion. “You can’t come back, which is the one reason I didn’t want to make the decision now.”
For Robbins and others in her situation, there will be more opportunities to take phased retirement. Under the terms of the three-year pilot program, notification for taking phased retirement is due by October 1 for the following academic year and final arrangements are to be made by February 1. HEOs or CLTs who intend to enter phased retirement at the start of the Spring semester must provide notification no later than May 1 of the preceding year and final arrangements must be in place by October 1.
“Retirement should be a time in which a person enjoys the fruits of their labor and a life well-lived,” Herst said. “But, it’s important to plan carefully and make sure you fully understand all the implications of phased retirement, financial and practical, before you make a major life decision like this one.”) Members can meet with Herst to go over the details of the program. Herst also encourages members to meet with their TIAA-CREF consultant and their financial planner.
To contact the PSC Pension & Benefits Office, call 212-354-1252.