October 2012 Issue
September 27, 2012

TRS: Which pension system are you in?

Source: NYSUT United

NYSUT members work in many different professions in numerous settings — and belong to several different pension systems. We often get questions from members who do not belong to the New York State Teachers' Retirement System. In an effort to clear up some of the confusion, here is a brief summary of the various pension systems:

All public school teachers and teaching assistants in New York belong to the state Teachers' Retirement System (TRS), except those who teach in New York City and belong to the Teachers' Retirement System of the City of New York.

Within NYSTRS, membership is only mandatory if someone is full time. Some part timers (and per diems) have not joined and incorrectly assume they are automatically enrolled in TRS. They must enroll. To check on enrollment status, call TRS at 800-348-7298.

There are six retirement "tiers" within both TRS systems, depending on when you joined the retirement system. For more information about the New York State Teachers' Retirement System, you may also check www.nystrs.org. In-service members with questions may call one of your teacher-members on the state TRS Board of Directors listed in the accompanying box, or email united@nysutmail.org. State TRS retirees may call David Keefe, 516-741-1241, the retiree representative on the board.

In New York City, Mel Aronson, Sandra March and Mona Romain are the three teacher-members of the city Teachers' Retirement System board. They can be reached at 212-598-9536. New York City teachers and paraprofessionals who have questions about retirement can also call a pension representative in the borough offices of the United Federation of Teachers. The borough office numbers are:

  • Bronx: 718-379-6200
  • Brooklyn: 718-852-4900
  • Manhattan: 212-598-6800
  • Queens: 718-275-4400
  • Staten Island: 718-605-1400

To reach the NYC Teachers' Retirement System, visit www.trsnyc.org online or call 888-8NYC-TRS (888-869-2877).

For non-instructional employees outside New York City, membership depends on the school board's decision to participate in the New York State Employees' Retirement System. There is no law that requires a school board to do so. But if they elect to participate, the law precludes the establishment of any retirement system for a civil service employee other than the Employees' Retirement System (ERS). Permanent, 12-month, full-time employees must join the system.

Part-time employees have the option to join the system and are encouraged to do so. They should contact their district's business office for more information. ERS delivers retirement benefits to many NYSUT School-Related Professionals and other support staff. For more information about ERS benefits, check out the website, www.osc.state.ny.us/retire. ERS members may contact the ERS Call Center toll-free at 866-805-0990, or 518-474-7736 in the Capital Region.

Public higher education members have a choice of joining ERS, TRS, or an optional retirement program, such as Teachers' Insurance Annuities Association-College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF) and others.

ERS and TRS are defined benefiit pension plans; TIAA-CREF is a defined-contribution plan.

Visit TIAA-CREF's website at www.tiaa-cref.org for more information on local offices, product information, retirement counseling sessions and eligibility information.

Retirement for private-sector employees is a subject for negotiation. Members should consult their collective bargaining agreements and local leadership for information about retirement benefits available to them.

Whichever public retirement system you are in, keep in mind you may be able to claim retirement credit for prior service in another pension system or if you rendered service in the U.S. Armed Forces. Service credit in a defined-benefit pension plan can be transferred to another system. Contact your retirement system directly to determine eligibility and start that process as soon as possible.