Archive for December 11th, 2022

Tier 6 and the Extension of ‘Working Lifetimes’

Today is December 11, 2022. In exactly 28 years, 8 months, and 29 days, I will be able to retire under Tier 6 without penalty. The date will be September 9, 2051. I’ll be 63 years old and will have worked for the DOE and contributed to my pension for about 35 years. I will have taught public education in NYC for roughly 40 years if you count my time at CUNY (which, somehow didn’t get me into the pension system, or I’d be in Tier 4, but I digress).

Don’t get me wrong. I love teaching. But, thirty-five years is a heck-of-a-long time to teach just to qualify to retire for a full pension. Had I started teaching for the DOE just a few years earlier, or had my time at CUNY been pensionable, I’d be Tier 4. That would mean better benefits, a much fairer vesting schedule, a lower and capped contribution rate, and much more. Effectively, two teachers at the same salary step/differential but in different tiers are compensated at wildly different rates because of (a) how much is taken out of each person’s check and for how long, (b) when they can retire on a full pension, and (c) how much they will collect once retired. But this blog post isn’t about compensation. It’s about time. Because Tier 4 members also got the chance at something Tier 6 members can only dream of – a 25-55 option. Had I gotten into Tier 6, I’d have taken that option, and been allowed to retire 8 years earlier, although still with a commendable 27 years of service. Because I cannot do this, my working life is effectively 8 years longer than my similar-aged peers in Tier 4, even though my benefits/compensation is lower.

There have been some mild reforms to Tier 6 over the last year or so, primarily in reducing the vesting period from ten years to five. (While the ‘malcontent’ in me does wonder if even this improvement has a sinister motive–namely, cutting the likelihood that departing teachers will take their money out of TRS, and thus keeping more money in the pension system should it face any financial roadblocks–I am glad to be vested). But there have been no changes to contribution rate, contribution period, benefits, and–most importantly–retirement age. There is a resolution likely to be presented at the next DA that commits to ‘continuing’ advocacy for such reforms, but I’m skeptical that our current union administration, currently hell-bent on reducing healthcare benefits for both in-service and retired members, will do anything to convince New York State to actually bring Tier 6 to the level of Tier 4 where it counts. I hope I’m wrong on that.

Tier 6 teachers of today not only have to work much longer careers than their peers; they also have to do this while dealing with other parts of the job that are much harder or time-consuming than that of Tier 4ers or their predecessors. For instance:

  • All Tier 6 teachers started working after the extension of the workday, which means from Day 1 to the end of their careers, they have to deal with endless PD Mondays and OPW Tuesdays. One has to wonder if UFTers (then only up to Tier 4) would have voted to make this exchange (longer working days for one-time raises that didn’t keep up with inflation), had they also faced reduced retirement benefits and an effectively mandatory retirement age of 63. Tier 6, with its longer working ‘lifetime’, hit after we’d already committed to longer working days in that contract.
  • Almost all Tier 6 teachers are now or on their way to being professionally certified. That’s true also of many teachers in Tier 4, but many Tier 4ers are permanently certified. Permanently certified teachers only have to re-register for certification. Professionally certified teachers, such as the majority of Tier 6, have to commit to 100 hours of professional development, with specific sub-requirements, every five years in order to stay certified. That means that Tier 6ers not only work longer hours during the work week and for many years longer than their peers in Tier 4; they also lose weekends, nights, and vacation days to mind-numbing and expensive PD sessions.
  • Tier 6 is unique in that almost all of its members had or have to deal with tenure requirements unseen in previous tiers. We have a four year minimum before consideration (rather than three), are extended at a roughly 50% rate, and must commit to remarkable amounts of paperwork – specifically, expansive portfolios that were never required previously. 
  • Paperwork and OPW requirements have gotten out of hand over the last decade (i.e. Tier 6). Extra-contractual responsibilities, often given so administrators or central employees can justify their own jobs, constantly interfere with our actual teaching requirements – nearly ensuring that work must be taken home every night or weekend.

Our severe teacher shortage is impacted by the fact that our working conditions are getting worse and our benefits are deteriorating. Current and potential teachers are freaked out enough about our encroaching loss of traditional Medicare, and maybe even HIP/GHI. Improving Tier 6 could help us attract educators to the profession, including in hard to staff areas. Moreover, Tier 6 hires now make up a large percentage of in-service UFT members. All of our students who become teachers after graduating will be Tier 6, if not worse, unless we are aggressive with a campaign to reverse what was lost. Therefore, it’s high time that we make pension reform a priority. We must do whatever it takes to convince NYS that all educators deserve Tier 4 pension benefits at an absolute minimum.


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December 2022