Local unions call again for Univ. to increase retirees’ pension sums

Labor leaders renewed their calls for the University to pay some of its older retirees a fair pension Tuesday night.

Locals 34 and 35 held a dinner to honor 11 retirees who helped obtain better pensions for employees who retired under the contract signed in 2003. But these honorees are among the approximately 1,000 retirees receiving pension benefits under the previous contract, which labor leaders have said are inadequate. University administrators said the pensions in question have seen increases above the cost of inflation.

The 11 retirees protested outside the Yale Investments Office on the eve of the unions’ 2003 strike, and five of them held an overnight sit-in until Chief Investment Officer David Swensen agreed to meet with them. Local 34 President Laura Smith said their actions pushed Yale to offer fair, secure pensions to employees who retire under the new contract, but not for themselves.

“There’s a sad irony that these workers are going to be left behind,” she said.

The 1,000 retirees receive an average pension of $582 a month, and Smith said many of them struggle daily to make ends meet.

The unions have been communicating with the University over the last three years about the issue, and Smith said she, along with Local 35 President Bob Proto and Yale Unions Retirees Association President Doris Rogan, sent a letter to University President Richard Levin earlier this year to reiterate the need for improvements. In the letter, they proposed a minimum of $50 a month in payment for each year of service, Smith said.

Vice President for Finance and Administration Shauna King said the University raised these pensions in 2004 and 2006. She said the July 2006 raise was four percent at a time when inflation was three percent. There are no specific plans for another increase, but the University monitors the pensions each year since they do not increase automatically, King said.

Many of the retirees in this group are women, as is typical of those among the elderly who are in poverty, Smith said. She said many women have spent less time in the workforce for a variety of reasons. University calculations include years of service when determining pension benefits.

Among those in attendance at the dinner last night were John Wilhelm ’67, president of UNITE HERE, the umbrella union for Locals 34 and 35, as well as New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr.

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