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Special call center handles retiree needs

New York Teacher
People working at the UFT Call Center
Erica Berger

Victoria Lee, a UFT special representative, helps retiree Steven Chasanow locate the pension information he needs to assist a caller, while retiree Roger Roth (left) mans the phones at the retiree call center at UFT headquarters in Manhattan.

When it comes to retirees and meeting their needs, the UFT doesn't let any grass grow under its feet.

Each day, hundreds of the Retired Teachers Chapter's nearly 70,000 members call the union with questions related to their retirement. To field all those calls more efficiently, the union has built a special retiree call center where special operators direct calls to the 10 retiree pension consultants and 12 retiree health consultants who staff the phones Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The call center number is 212-331-6314.

The 17th floor of union headquarters, the busiest floor in the union's 19-floor headquarters, is solely devoted to retiree issues, and the call center is the latest innovation.

"When we see what retirees need, we see what we can do to meet those needs," said Debra Penny, one of three UFT trustees on the board of the Teachers' Retirement System.

Because retiring is such a life-changing event, the UFT provides support services to guide members into retirement and then to help them throughout retirement.

The pension department has 80 trained member consultants who staff union borough offices after school each day to provide consultations about retirement to in-service members. Preretirement consultations, workshops and clinics, once part of the Ready or Not Program, have been updated and expanded to accommodate more people at more convenient places and times.

When UFT members turn 65, the UFT sends an email connecting them to UFT resources that explain the steps to apply for Medicare and get full reimbursement for out-of-pocket costs.

The retiree section of the UFT website (click on Chapters and then Retired Teachers) is the toolkit that has replaced the Retiree Handbook. It provides all the latest information necessary for a secure and dignified retirement, including forms, important phone numbers and a wealth of resources. You'll find valuable information about working during retirement and how that affects pensions.

The union has worked with the Teachers' Retirement System to provide retirees with workshops that explain how to access TRS information and forms, which are now all online. Be sure not to ignore an "Are you still alive?" letter from TRS. If you fail to respond to such a letter, your pension checks will stop coming.

And if you have moved out of the area, the UFT has many regional sections of the Retired Teachers Chapter to keep retirees who have left New York City informed of what is going on.

At the annual meeting for each of these sections — which are scattered across the country and as far away as Israel and Puerto Rico — RTC leaders and pension and health experts bring retirees up to date on UFT issues, and participants have an opportunity to get answers to their questions in a one-on-one setting.

"We stay at the meeting until every last question is answered," Penny said. "When it comes to retirees, we are always looking for new and better ways to serve them and keep them close."

In a letter following the annual meeting in North Carolina, retiree Phillis Taylor wrote, "My appreciation for a wonderful and informative meeting. And thank you for all you do."