California: Premium pay for ordinary duties
The LA Times has a follow-up story on the August vote by the Calpers board to approve 99 categories of additional pay that government employees in the Golden State can use to boost the amount of their salary that counts toward their final pension. While the major import of the story is the way Calpers undermined modest pension reforms signed into law in 2012 by Gov. Brown, it’s fascinating to see just what kinds of tasks earn government workers “premium” pay.
If you’re thinking that maybe you earn premium pay for, say, tough duty like working on a national holiday, or hazardous duty, here are a few of the categories approved by the Calpers board, according to an LA Times sidebar:
- Staffing the reference desk in a public library and providing guidance to patrons (I guess any contact with the public is considered hazardous duty).
- Operating audio/visual equipment.
- Reading parking meters and writing tickets.
- Working on a ladder (the height premium, the Times calls it)
- Front desk assignment premium for workers at a jail who must answer questions from visitors.
- Firefighters assigned to administrative work.
If you’re wondering why these categories get to be counted as work premiums, remember that the folks voting on this, the board of Calpers, is dominated by members who are part of the pension system itself, as I wrote in this LA Times op-ed a few months ago. It’s a national problem and one that helps explain how policies like this become official.
As the Times points out, Calpers admits it didn’t bother to calculate what this expanded list of premium pay would cost the pension system. It’s not as if the system isn’t $100 billion in debt, or something. But we all remember how Stockton officials admitted after the city went broke that they had never bothered to calculate the cost of some retirement benefits they were granting workers, back in the 1990s.
I’m still waiting for Gov. Brown to reintroduce legislation to change the Calpers board, something he proposed back in 2012. He might have more support for this idea now.