Dennis Kelly, President of the Council of Retired Members, thinks retirees, often with a wealth of information and usually some extra time, are the ideal people to get involved with union activities. 

That’s why Kelly would like to see locals help start retiree chapters. After decades with United Educators of San Francisco, Local 61, Kelly is now involved with Local 61- R. 

“We have a local where we have five meetings a year and bring in speakers and use our dues to pay for lunch,” Kelly said. “It’s become a way of talking about issues like the WEP and the GPO that are of particular interest to retirees because they are affected by it.”

Kelly is talking about the Windfall Elimination Program and Government Pension Offset, both passed by Congress in the early 1980s. The WEP reduces the earned Social Security benefits of teachers and other public employees, while the GPO can eliminate spousal benefits. 

Kelly says they also bring in speakers to talk about issues like hearing awareness and what to do if you’ve decided to move out of your home and into a facility. They are also looking at doing some oral histories, he says. The chapter gets involved with politics, such as counting ballots, and Kelly says with the 2024 election coming up in November, it will be critical to have retirees engaged.  

If you’re wondering how to start a chapter like this, you’re in luck! CFT has a pamphlet, titled When You Retire: A Practical Guide for Retiree Activists to Develop and Activate a Retiree Chapter, which contains a step-by-step guide to doing so, the top reasons to belong to an AFT retiree chapter, and useful information such as suggested language for bylaws and sample letters. 

That’s what Patti Serafin used when she wanted to start a chapter. Serafin worked in the financial aid office at Palomar College for 15 years and served in the Palomar College Council of Classified Employees, Local 4522 as a steward, a secretary and vice president.

When she retired from the college in 2022, Serafin didn’t miss work too much, but she did miss the people and being around like-minded unionists. So she started to think about starting a retiree chapter. She talked with her friend, the current president of the parent local, Anel Gonzalez, and they discussed how it would be a great way to continue union work such as manning the tables at a campus event or canvassing for Board of Trustee candidates. 

“We just want to have an avenue for us to stay connected to each other, as well as being able to still be in the database and connected to the CFT and to the AFT.”

“The parent local would like to send us when they can’t make it to a conference or something and we would represent 4522 and bring back information to the parent chapter.”

They’re still at the beginning stages, Serafin says, and she has used the booklet as a guide to writing a letter to the executive board of the parent local asking about starting a retiree chapter. She got a list of retirees and sent out letters and emails inviting them to a lunch in April to gauge interest. Then they will hold a general membership meeting, see who’s interested in serving as officers, put together a set of bylaws and once those are approved, they will send an application for their charter to the AFT. 

Serafin says along with helping out the local, she looks forward to being able to give members the benefit of her experience as they get ready to retire. 

“Some of the steps that I took, I didn’t have anybody telling me, ‘Don’t forget to do this.’” she said. “I want to be a resource for other new retirees. HR provides some sort of a checklist, but it’s not the same as what we would do in a one-on-one with our members.”