The Sacramento Bee reports that Central Contra Costa Sanitary District sewage engineer Alan Grieb, cashed in 2,138 hours of unused sick time when he retired last year, adding about $145,000 to his final paycheck. The Contra Costa Times (bit.ly/NgruhK) says the district also counted most of that check toward Grieb’s pension.
And the banked sick days were counted as time he technically worked, adding more than a year to his 31-year career. Those perks combined to bump up Grieb’s pension checks by another $800 a month for life. District general manager Ann Farrell, who is negotiating with unions to rein in sick time payouts, describes Contra Costa County as the poster child for pension spiking.
Vast treasures of accumulated sick leave and vacation time are only two ways public employees “spike” their pensions. The problem is two fold.
First, politicians negotiated against taxpayers and for vote-friendly union interests to allow generous rules regarding how a pension will be calculated. Many systems use a worker’s last year’s salary. Some reforms include average of last three year’s salary; and the most honest approach is average of last year three year salary as posted for position by published job classification, not gross salary.
In systems that simply base pensions on final year gross salary, spiking includes not only sick leave accumulated (instead of use it or lose it) as witnessed by Grieb, and every other County employee under the “old plan” but also, vacation time and overtime. In many departments, it is a common practice for an employee who comes within range of applying for retirement to double down on overtime to boost last year salary far beyond normal pay.
The second area of abuse comes from extras added as if they are salary including but not limited to uniforms, training, and other departmental perqs. Further, A fireman, for example not only is paid base salary for grade but gets additional pay spikes for various duty such as EMS service that one would think they were already getting paid for in base salary. Rinse repeat.