Georgia Shorts P/T Faculty on Retirement Benefits
Part-time workers have a hard time with benefits. Tom Hudson
hopped from job to job for years, trying to piece together a full-time
paycheck from itinerant work as a part-time English professor. He paid
little attention to his pay stubs while teaching at Athens Technical College
in the 1990s, assuming some money went toward a Social Security account
that would make retirement more comfortable.
He was wrong.
The state retirement plan that covered Hudson and a growing number
of temporary Georgia workers provides no Social Security coverage. At
best, critics say the plan Georgia created for temps in place of Social
Security is a piggy bank dressed as a retirement plan.
At worst, they say it sets the state’s most vulnerable workers back
years in saving for old age.
“I look at the plan as an employment tax which I am forced to pay out
of the already meager salary paid to part-time instructors,” said Nick
Currie, a part-time teacher at Southern Polytechnic University in Marietta.
Under the plan, called the Georgia Defined Contribution Plan (GDCP),
the state transfers 7.5 percent of each part-timer’s paycheck into an investment
fund with a small annual rate of return. The plan is no-frills: employees
who move on to other jobs can withdraw their money from the fund
before age 65, if they remember to file paperwork asking for it. About
20,000 workers in hundreds of agencies must participate, from part-time
doctors and custodians to summer gardeners and part-time teachers, even
though some work 40 hours a week or more, Williams said. Some 1,400
work at the University of Georgia.
Those who must participate in the plan include seasonal employees,
who only work part of a year; part-time employees, defined as those who
work less than 20.5 hours per week, and employees who are not benefits-eligible.
The plan provides Medicare coverage but bars participation in other
retirement plans. Unlike Social Security, it provides no disability coverage.
Full-time students are exempt. And unlike Social Security, the state
pays no matching funds on the 7.5 percent retirement deduction.
“All you’re doing is holding the
money for them,” state Representative
Louise McBee said. “I hate to
say I don’t think it’s fair, but I really
don’t. It keeps the state from having
to contribute money.”
The GDCP was established in
1992 by state leaders who have saved
at least $60 million by avoiding making
matching Social Security contributions
to a growing segment of the
state work-force: temporary, seasonal
and part-time workers. Numbers of
state temps and part-timers jumped
from 6,000 to more than 20,000 in
the last decade, according to Cedric
Williams, who manages the plan for
the state Employee Retirement System.
“There appear to be some faculty
members who are part-time in
status but teach a full schedule,”
Currie said. “These individuals may
have a much bigger complaint than I
Not everyone’s a critic.
“To me that’s one of the advantages —
this money is available to be
returned; it is earning some interest,”
said Louis Wyatt of UGA Human
Resources, who said he’s
fielded few complaints on the plan.
“We never see those people because
they didn’t have any other benefits.”
Because of turnover, some of
the $43 million in the statewide fund
is unclaimed because workers sometimes
forget to seek a refund. That
fact doesn’t surprise Jim McCay,
who supervises part-timers at the
cafeteria of the Georgia Center for
Continuing Education at UGA.
“They’re sort of people who
might not be paying a lot of attention,”
McCay said. “They really
think they’re paying into Social Security.”
Hudson, who now holds a fulltime
position at the Grady College
of Journalism and Mass Communication,
says the turnover in part-time
jobs probably helps quell complaints.
“I wish the state did a better job
of educating people about this matter.
If they don’t it may be because
they choose to hide this information,”
McBee herself successfully cosponsored
legislation in 2000 exempting
members of state boards
and commissions from being forced
to contribute to the plan.
But McBee, a champion of improving
state benefits, said she could
hardly believe the Georgia Defined
Contribution Plan was legal when
she received a complaint about it
recently and looked at the fine print.
Georgia created the plan, using
a loophole in a 1990 federal law requiring
government entities to provide
Social Security to workers or
coverage under a “public retirement
system providing meaningful benefits.”
McBee, who serves on the state
House retirement committee, says
GDCP seems to fall short of extending
“We’re starting them out in a
life of poverty in the time of retirement,”
she said. “Social Security at
its best is not sufficient.”
The fund provides a 4 percent
annual rate of return. No one has
tried to retire on it.
Williams said members receive
annual statements, but participants
“I’ve never received a statement,”
said Mary Porter, a part-time
UGA art teacher who has been contributing
to the plan off and on since
The bill creating the plan was
sponsored by state Representatives
Bill Cummings, Dubose Porter,
Jeanette Jamieson and Thurbert
Baker, now the state’s attorney general
and official legal adviser to the
plan. Governor Zell Miller signed it
Workers around the country are
casting colder eyes on their retirement
plans since the Enron bankruptcy,
which left thousands of the
company’s employees without retirement
funds. Georgia public
workers are no exception, in a state
in which public retirement plans are
rife with inconsistencies, says
Part-time faculty, who have become
the norm for colleges and universities
trying to balance rising enrollments
and decreasing state budgets,
are the latest in a line of workers
to seek better retirement benefits.
Other states have opted to provide
Social Security coverage for
their temporary workers.
McBee and other lawmakers say
they’ll pursue improvements here.
“I don’t know that anything like
that exists elsewhere,” said state
Senator Doug Haines, D-Athens.
“It doesn’t sound fair.”
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