Low pensions anger retirees

The University is not paying some of its older retirees an adequate pension, retirees and union organizers said in a panel discussion at the Yale Women’s Center Thursday.

Current and former members of the Local 34 union said Yale has not been fair to more than 1,000 staff members who retired before the most recent contract was settled between Yale and its unions in 2003. The pensions of these retirees — more than 80 percent of whom are women — are far too low, panelists said. University administrators said the pensions in question have been raised twice in the last three years, although there was no obligation to do so.

Retirees speak out about pension issues at the Yale Women’s Center on Thursday.  During the discussion, the speakers expressed their dissatisfaction with the low levels of compensation they receive. 80 percent of Yale retirees are women.
Blair Benham-Pyle
Retirees speak out about pension issues at the Yale Women’s Center on Thursday. During the discussion, the speakers expressed their dissatisfaction with the low levels of compensation they receive. 80 percent of Yale retirees are women.

Lois Jason — who began working at Yale in 1977, earning $3.40 per hour — retired in 1993 after working as a secretary at the Yale Health Plan, the School of Medicine and the University’s Cowles Foundation. Her pension provides her with $345 per month, and social security benefits bring her total income to $1,100 per month.

“We’re not looking for pity,” Jason said after the discussion, which drew about 20 members of the Yale community. “It’s a matter of dignity and respect. We are our brother’s keeper and you have to think of other people.”

Moderator Marissa Levendis ’07 said the average pension of these retirees is $582 per month, which she called a “poverty pension.” Yale Unions Retirees Association President Doris Rogan — who was not present at Thursday’s discussion — said staffers who retired before 2003 have pensions about 35 percent smaller than those retiring under the new contract’s terms. One employee who retired after the old contract expired, for example, was initially paid a pension of $428 per month but saw her pension climb to nearly $800 once the new contract was in place.

Rogan said some of these retirees feel unappreciated by the University.

“There’s no excuse,” she said. “We think the University is taking a very hard stand against us.”

During the 2003 contract negotiations, a group of Yale retirees held an overnight sit-in at the Yale Investments Office, demanding to speak with Chief Investment Officer David Swensen about their pensions. He met with them the next day, and members of the University’s contract negotiating team later promised to renegotiate the pensions for older retirees sometime in the future, Levendis said.

Although Deputy Provost Charles Long said he was not aware of this promise, he said the University has reviewed and raised the older pensions periodically. Rogan said the University promised to reexamine pensions in the future, not to hold formal negotiations.

The University raised pre-2003 pensions twice in the last three years — once after the 2003 contract settlement and again last July, Rogan said. But Jason said her pension only increased by $13.81 per month in the most recent raise.

While the sit-in at the Investments Office may have made a difference for who retired after 2003, it did not benefit those who staged the protest, Local 34 President Laura Smith said at the discussion.

“Instead of negotiating, Yale paternalistically tossed them a little every year-and-a-half or so,” she said. “That doesn’t come close to enough.”

University retirees had to pressure administrators for last the two increases, Rogan said. In March 2004, retirees demonstrated outside Woodbridge Hall to protest the disparity in pensions. Rogan said the group plans to renew their calls for pension increases in a letter to the administration.

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