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Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

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Anne Chadwick Williams/ The Sacramento Bee
The CalPERS campus in Sacramento

Our lead story in today’s fiber/cyber Bee looks at a CalPERS proposal that would allow about 100 categories of state- and local-government employees’ supplemental pay to be included in their pension calculations, including temporary promotions that receive upgraded pay. Gov. Jerry Brown opposes including “temporary upgrade pay” in the list of salary enhancements that would factor into pension-benefit calculations.

A board committee approved the measure today and a vote by the full board is set for Wednesday.

Here’s the letter Brown sent last week to CalPERS Board of Administration President Rob Feckner, explaining the governor’s opposition to temporary upgrade pay. Below is the list of salary enhancements that CalPERS’ staff has proposed should be made pensionable. The list is an aggregate of supplemental pay types found across all of the fund’s member employers. No single employer uses them all.

State and local government supplemental pay categories

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courtesy CalPERS Board of Administration
Priya Mathur, CalPERS Pension Health and Benefits chairwoman

A key CalPERS committee on Tuesday approved counting nearly 100 types of government-salary supplements toward employees’ pension benefits, including extra money workers earn for temporarily filling higher-paying jobs.

Although Gov. Jerry Brown objects to including such “temporary upgrade pay” in employees’ retirement calculations and city leaders worry the regulations will encourage pension spiking, the fund’s Pension and Health Benefits Committee put down a request by one of the governor’s appointees on the board to remove the controversial temp-pay category from the staff-proposed list. After rejecting the motion by a 6-2 vote, the committee approved all 99 items on the list by the same margin.

The proposed regulation, which defines language in a 2013 law that bases pensions on “the normal monthly rate of pay or base pay,” goes to the full CalPERS board for a final vote on Wednesday and is expected to pass. The proposed regulation does not affect employees who were members of a CalPERS pension fund before 2013.

Before the votes, Department of Finance budget analyst Eric Stern reiterated Brown’s objection to factoring in temporary payments, saying that they are the kind of ad hoc pay increases that the pension-reform law intends to eliminate from pension calculations.

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Jay Mather/ The Sacramento Bee
A courtyard at CalPERS’ Sacramento headquarters

More than a year after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law he said would tamp down pension spiking, the state’s biggest public pension fund is on the verge of adopting rules critics say would undermine its intent.

Staff at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System has suggested that the fund’s board authorize 99 types of special payments as counting toward pension calculations for employees hired since Brown’s pension law took effect on Jan. 1, 2013. Among them: longevity pay, police marksmanship certification pay, physical fitness pay, smog inspector license pay, notary pay, cement finisher pay and holiday pay.

Public pension-change advocates, including Democratic San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, say the proposal is another sign that the union-dominated CalPERS board “is doing what they can to resist reforms. … They’re in favor of anything that expands benefits.”

But CalPERS says the proposal is consistent with the law and gives much-needed clarity to the 3,100 school districts and state and local governments in the retirement system who need to know what to report to the fund.

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Brian Baer/ The Sacramento Bee
Jayme Woulard, 9, from Pam Pisciollo's fourth grade class at White Rock Elementary School in Rancho Cordova, looks at ticks through a microscope at the State Science day at the State Capitol, Wednesday, May 23, 2007. The California Association of Professional Scientists sponsored the yearly event designed to encourage students to explore careers in science.

The Brown administration has reached tentative labor agreements with unions representing state attorneys and scientists, potentially settling – at least temporarily – two longstanding disputes about pay.

The California Association of Professional Scientists, whose membership earlier this year rejected a 4.5 percent raise phased in over two years, said Thursday it has reached a shorter-term deal that includes a smaller, 3 percent raise on July 1, 2015, but allows the union to re-open compensation talks sooner. The contract would expire next year, union spokesman Ryan Endean said.

He said union scientists are “pushing hard for salary equity” with scientists in comparable jobs elsewhere.

“We’re continuing to try to move that process forward, and our bargaining team felt the best way to do that was to take this deal with the 3 percent, a shorter deal which allows us to get back to the bargaining table sooner,” he said.

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Randall Benton/ RBenton@sacbee.com
The California State Capitol building from the Tower Bridge in Sacramento on Sunday, September 29, 2013.

States spent nearly $31 billion to provide health coverage to 2.7 million employee households in 2013, a small increase from the previous two years, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis released Tuesday by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the MacArthur Foundation.

States’ total health premiums and related costs trailed only Medicaid, the government-run healthcare program for the poor, as a share of total health care spending, according to the study.

In California, the average total premium per employee was $1,092, more than Texas ($713) and Florida ($958), but less than New York ($1,106) and New Jersey ($1,334). Nationwide, the average premium came in at $963.

The average employer premium contribution was 77 percent in California and 84 percent nationally.

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Courtesy California Department of Developmental Services
The sign outside the Porterville Developmental Center.

Reader responses are rolling in to this week’s The State Worker column, which looks at how a legal technicality kept long-time state psychiatric technician assistant Melissa Paul from renewing her license. The feedback we’re hearing is summarized in this poll. Vote and see what other readers think.

story mug Ortiz
Jon Ortiz

Nearly two years ago, Melissa Paul suffered unimaginable loss when her 13-year-old daughter committed suicide in their Porterville home.

Now, after struggling with debilitating depression and fighting her way back to work last fall, the state psychiatric technician assistant has lost her job of 15 years – for now at least – because of a legal technicality over when she took required training classes to renew her license.

State officials offer their sympathies but they say there’s nothing they can do.

Paul’s daughter Courtney was in junior high when she died in October 2012, desperate to escape bullying.

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Brian Nguyen/ The Sacramento Bee
Scaffolding shields the rooftop parking structure entrance to the Board of Equalization headquarters in downtown Sacramento.

An exterior scaffolding switch planned for the Board of Equalization’s downtown Sacramento headquarters is on hold until at least the middle of this month.

The state had planned to take down leased scaffolding and replace it with purchased scaffolding at the end of last month, but that plan was put off at Equalization’s request, said a spokesman for the Department of General Services, which handles the building’s repair and maintenance.

“The tenant made an 11th hour request to delay the switch out a few weeks. BOE requested (and DGS obliged) to be allowed more time to make arrangements to their operational plan during the three days of construction,” General Services spokesman Brian Ferguson said in an email. “The switchout is still going forward, probably the weekend of (August) 15th.”

Equalization spokeswoman Venus Stromberg cast the delay in a different light:

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Rich Pedroncelli/ Associated Press
An inmate sits in a cell at the mental health unit at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's Stockton Health Facility in Stockton, Calif.

Pay for California’s psychiatric technicians in 2013 fell slightly even as their numbers grew, indicating a turnover in the ranks created by senior employees at the higher end of the pay scale departed state service while new psych techs earning less entered the state workforce.

Most state psychiatric technicians work in state developmental centers, hospitals and prisons to provide care for developmentally disabled and mentally ill clients. The work can be dangerous; the murder of Napa State Hospital psychiatric technician Donna Gross has fueled ongoing efforts by the union to upgrade facility safety standards. The California Association of Psychiatric Technicians also pressed for more staff and blames overwhelming workloads as contributing to a recent controversy over falsified inmate-patient records at a state prison medical facility.

Last summer the union reached an agreement with Gov. Jerry Brown that gave its members a 4.25 percent salary increase phased in this year and next.

And shortly after 2013’s close, long-time President Tony Myers passed away after a short illness. He had led the union for a dozen years.

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Jose Luis Villegas/ The Sacramento Bee

A judge Monday issued a tentative ruling that removes a ballot measure to phase out Ventura County’s pension system, dimming prospects for similar efforts elsewhere.

The measure, backed by the Venture County Taxpayers Association, would put future Ventura County hires into a 401(k)-style retirement savings plan instead of the traditional defined-benefit plan covering current workers. The proposal would take effect for employees hired on or after July 1, 2015.

Pension-change proponents had predicted that the measure’s success would touch off similar county ballot proposals around the state. But Superior Court Judge Kent Kellegrew said the proposal violates a 77-year-old law that established a county pension system for Ventura, Sacramento, Los Angeles and 17 other counties statewide.

“There is nothing within the (law) that provides for withdrawal by an accepting county...” Kellegrew wrote, so placing an illegal measure on the ballot would be a waste of public resources.

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Jack Ohman/ The Sacramento Bee
Board of Equilzation Sequelizaton

In case you missed it Sunday, The Bee’s Jack Ohman suggests a few “solutions” for the troubled Board of Equalization tower - and tosses some barbs at Caltrans’ Bay Bridge project, too. Click here for a larger image of Jack’s cartoon.

RELATED LINKS:

Threat of litigation looms over faulty Board of Equalization tower

California state tower gets Ohmanized

Editor’s note 3:40 p.m.: This item has been updated with responses from California Correctional Health Care Services.

Layoff notices are going out to psychiatric technicians at California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo as the state continues to shuffle medical staffing and shift patients into treatment centers such as the year-old facility in Stockton.

The layoffs will take effect Dec. 1, according to a letter sent to the California Association of Psychiatric Technicians. There are 66 state employees on the layoff warning list, which the union says is every psychiatric technician who works at the facility.

California Correctional Health Care Services, the federally devised department created to improve inmate medical services, is conducting the layoffs. Generally, state agencies issue more layoff-warning notices than the number of positions they eventually eliminate.

About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at jortiz@sacbee.com.

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Note: The State Worker blog switched blog platforms in October 2013. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.


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