Retired annuitants are assets, not drains on budget

The governor needs to explain to the citizens of California how the state will save a single cent with the termination of its most experienced – and least expensive – employees.

Departments throughout the state employed nearly 6,000 part-time state retired annuitants until July 24 when Gov. Schwarzenegger issued his executive order cutting state worker pay and eliminating more than 10,000 part-time jobs, including retired annuitants. With a few exceptions, retired annuitants were told by the thousands that they would no longer be scheduled to work. No further notice was given to retired annuitants and no guarantee of reinstatement was made.

These retired annuitants were one of the best bargains the state had going for it. They are assets, not drains, on the state budget. A hackneyed expression describes the governor's action best-penny wise and pound foolish.

Before these valuable annuitants find other jobs or more money is lost in training new people for the same jobs, the state Legislature should make an emergency appropriation to restore all of the part-time workers who lost their jobs. Several groups, including CSEA Retirees, Inc., called for such an appropriation at the Senate Governmental Organization Committee hearing Aug. 4.

Besides getting a good employee, the state does not have to pay retired annuitants for benefits such as health care, vacation and pensions. What's more, when retirees return to the state workforce they often come back at a lower pay level and job classification than when they left. Retired annuitants may work up to 960 hours a year without affecting their state pensions.

There are as many types of retired annuitants as there are state workers. From retired nurses to clerical workers to attorneys, retired annuitants are writing and calling their legislators and the governor to point out that the governor's fiscal experts have not done a clear analysis on whether these lay offs will ultimately help or hurt the state.

Retiree Toni Tocco from San Diego wrote in a letter to the governor this week that he has "created a mess that's going to ripple down to every part of the economy."

Without their part-time jobs, Tocco points out that she and other out-of-work annuitants won't contribute as much money to the ailing economy.

"Did anyone consider the big picture effect this will have on California?" she asks. "If they think they've got problems with mortgage foreclosures now, they ain't seen nothin' yet."

Patsy Owen, a clerical worker who was let go from a Department of Corrections office in Rancho Cordova, says "the state gets a bargain and a half from us. And the permanent employees appreciate us because there's too much work for them. They don't resent us – they appreciate us."

Like many retired annuitants, Owen works because she must. She has a limited pension after 12 years with the state and her daughter and four grandchildren moved in with her following a divorce. Owen now finds herself "helping to support a family again." She won't be able to wait for the freeze to lift before seeking another job.

A retired nurse in San Diego says the state is foolish to let her go, especially when there is a shortage of nurses statewide. She says she will have no trouble finding work somewhere that she is more appreciated.

An attorney who worked as a retired annuitant for a state department says his skills and institutional knowledge are not something that can be easily picked up by the people left to do his work. When the state budget falderal ends and understaffed state departments need to find part-time workers again, the expertise and commitment they seek may not be so readily available. What is really saved by the firing of 10,000 part-time workers? There is only loss – a loss of valuable employees and a loss of morale among Californians who don't want to see their state run this way.

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