Jon Ortiz | Sacramento Bee
As Friday's state budget deadline approaches, a little-noticed provision in Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal would cut off thousands of retirees who return to work for the state.
The idea targets all but the most essential of the state's so-called “retired annuitants,” a group of about 5,800 workers who drew $110 million in pay from the state last year on top of their pensions.
The Democratic governor's proposal could strike a chord with taxpayers by appearing to crack down on double-dipping. It also appeals to public employee unions – which want to eliminate jobs they believe stunt the growth of the regular workforce – at the same time he's asking union workers to accept furloughs and a 5 percent pay cut.
Though axing retirees may score points with Brown's political base, critics say the practice would cut off experienced, flexible and relatively cheap help. Retired annuitants receive no benefits and can be laid off without notice…
At the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, nearly 1,000 retirees perform an array of tasks in the 63,000-employee agency, from clerical work to handling inmates. Beset by legal and financial pressures for years, the department has terminated hundreds of employees as the state shifts more convicted inmates to local jails.
“We're looking at every retired annuitant in our system,” said Terri McDonald, undersecretary of operations for the department. “When a position doesn't meet our critical 24/7 requirements, it will be canceled. But when RAs do meet a critical need, we'll keep them on. There will always be some RAs on our books … because some important roles can be difficult to fill through regular staffing.”
The department uses retirees to mentor wardens and other top-level employees, transport inmates for medical care and fill hard-to-recruit positions such as cooks and other operations staff in some institutions…(Full text at Sacramento Bee)
While the Governor is to be commended for addressing the RA matter, his efforts are tepid and impotent–Notwithstanding CDCR's professed need, the rationale for hiring RA's is wholly lacking. Moreover, it speaks to a much larger problem.
Incompetent management underlies CDCR's professed need for retired annuitants
A properly structured organization trains and promotes staff members with an eye toward the future. CDCR's professed need for RA's to “mentor wardens” is tacit acknowledgement the agency is hiring unqualified, unseasoned people to run our prisons.
Historically, potential warden candidates were groomed over time and “mentored” on the way up the ladder. When they got there, they mentored the up-and-comers. Over 2 decades ago, this was labeled “the good old boys club” and rejected in favor of a clique system wherein the various “cars” within the organization became the preferred candidate pool–Cars are filled with “kids” and, as a result, the promotion of the untested and unqualified became the rule. Clearly, a warden in need of a mentor is a warden-in-training, a protégé.
The use of rank and file RA's is similarly telling. While CDCR's promotion of neophyte wardens created a need for warden-mentors, there's simply no need for old salts to mentor fish CO's. We need adequately staffed facilities and offices. The failure to meet this operations critical need drives the professed need for recycling retirees.
“Some important roles can be difficult to fill through regular staffing,” says Terri McDonald. Well, that's what McDonald's mouth says but Paco says, show me! Give me a list of those difficult to fill positions and I guarantee there are cost effective ways to fill them without hiring RA's. In the broadest terms, PIE positions exist precisely to give the agency the flexibility needed to “meet our critical 24/7 requirements,” completely obviating the need for ANY retired CO's.
With unemployment at 10.9% how could ANY position be hard to fill ANYWHERE?
Traditionally hard-to-fill jobs in the private sector such as fast food worker and convenience store clerk produce lines of applicants today! Yet, we are to believe it's hard to fill a state position, the brass ring in a good economy, during what the President repeatedly tells us is “the worst economy since the Great Depression?”
Hovering just below 11%, the state unemployment rate stands as the most compelling argument for axing RA's. Which is to say, there are countless qualified people on the unemployment rolls. How on Earth can the State justify hiring folks who receive a pension greater than the average working person's wages over the unemployed? The trouble is, they don't have to justify them. They just do it.
As for the Governor's proposal, it is weak. He should be calling on his party-controlled legislature to produce a bill outlawing the practice altogether. Should it then be determined some wardens need mentoring, he can replace them with managers who don't need it. And, in the extremely unlikely event a special need is identified requiring some really special retiree, they can be hired temporarily as a contractor. PERIOD.
Retirement is not simply a prize for aging workers
Finally, consider brutal reality:
- There comes a point where older workers are not cost effective due to decreased productivity, sick usage, salary, etc. Retirement does not rejuvenate…
- It's the cycle of life: the old make way for the young. Old lions don't stick around to mentor their protégés–Their protégés kill them.
- Peace officer retirement age was not lowered on a whim. Occupational heart disease was the reason. We don't want people in safety positions dying on the job. In that context, hiring RA's flies in the face of public safety and common sense.
Given all of the above, don't hold your breath waiting for retired annuitants to go away. And, if you are retired, just be happy you are breathing and go home.