Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Pension fatteners reveal some strange public work rules

Dan Walters
Dan Walters

Two years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature agreed to a mild reform of public employee pensions aimed, they said, at reducing manipulation of the system and reducing long-term costs.

Among other things, the reform legislation sought to reduce “spiking” of pensions by restricting their calculation to regular pay.

This week, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, whose board is dominated by union representatives and union-friendly politicians, revealed a very generous interpretation of that provision.

It declared 99 forms of pay over and above regular salaries to be “pensionable.”

Brown objected to just one, allowing temporary pay from short-term promotions, to be counted toward pensions. That exception, he said, “disregards the rule that pensions will be based on normal monthly pay and not on short-term, ad hoc pay increases.”

The CalPERS board ignored his objection, after which Brown complained, “Today CalPERS got it wrong” and said he will explore “what actions can be taken to protect the integrity of the Public Employees Pension Reform Act.”

All right – but by his silence, Brown tacitly approved 98 other kinds of extra pay that CalPERS allowed to inflate pensions.

Running through the list, one is struck by a recurring theme: State and local civil service workers appear to be getting lots of money for performing duties that any rational person would consider just part of the job.

Clerks are being paid extra for being good typists, for example, and cops are being paid to keep physically fit, to be accurate shots with their firearms, and when “assigned to analyze and explore a crime scene.”

For some reason, jailers get paid extra if they are “routinely and consistently assigned the duty of responding to questions from the public,” while librarians get premium pay if they are “routinely and consistently assigned to provide direction or resources to library patrons.”

A civil service worker may qualify for additional income if he or she is “routinely and consistently assigned to sensitive positions requiring trust and discretion” or if he or she takes a job in a “rural, remote or unique” setting.

And so it goes, implying that those who negotiate public employee labor contracts on behalf of taxpayers are willing to give their workers all sorts of extra income for doing what most of us would consider to be ordinary working conditions.

Why should dealing with the public, as some jailers and librarians must do, qualify for extra pay? Is dealing with the public – the people who pay their salaries – such an onerous chore that it requires what those in the military would consider hazardous duty pay?

Why isn’t investigating crime scenes just part of the job for cops? And do we have to pay workers extra for exhibiting “trust and discretion”?

It’s just nuts.