January 25, 2007

Govt Pensions: When will the madness end?

Although the story below is an issue brewing in Orange County (behind the "orange curtain" as we like to say) it is emblematic of a wider problem. Govt. employees at one agency talk with their pals in other agencies or counties and generate an endless public sector (taxpayer financed) bidding war. A race to the top of the pay scale sorta speak whereas in the private sector, where outsourcing is common, we are at a race to the bottom, a race to eliminate pensions and even the jobs themselves. For God's sake the federal min. minimum wage is under 11,000 per year and we have LIFEGUARDS earning 115,000 a year for life (Dont forget lifetime pensions with cost of living raises and the best free health bennies in the biz). That also assumes these lifeguards are not "forced" to retire at 40 due to a job related disability (sun burn).

Here is a government solution I learned from Nancy Reagan: "Just say No" Thats right, no to pay raises. Then what? The lifeguards will quit? Where will they go? Will they go into that lucrative private sector and become extras on "Baywatch". Nope that's in syndication already. Maybe they can go work for Motel 6. Nope they have signs posted at the pool: "swim at your own risk no lifeguard on duty". Even if they did want to hire lifeguards they would have to wait in line behind the maids union, which is currently trying to boost their pay over the federal minimum. Plus those "benefits" at Motel 6 are only all the soap you can steal.

But what about the poor Newport Beach residents that might drown you ask. What about the "children"...oh my God. Well thats where Darwin's law comes in. Swim during a rip tide, alone, or into a shark and you won't be contributing to the gene pool any more. The City is safe as the government code in California gives them absolute immunity for people that die or are injured due to natural conditions. Tons of drowning cases out there where the city walks away from the case due to the fact that signs were posted: "Swim at your own risk: No lifeguards on duty (due to pensions)"...

Here is another solution: Hire more part timers. It is primarily a summer position. Hell their are great swimmers out there that would love to have this job. It beats working at McDonalds. Who would like to work on Baywatch and scam on chicks all summer? Lots of cities do that.

Another solution: let the voters (who are not so beholden to govt. unions and have more backbone) vote on these scams. I think the voters would vote the way I would: Outsource the lifeguards!!


Newport lifeguards pushing pension issue
They want the same retirement benefit that police and firefighters in the city receive.



NEWPORT BEACH, CA – Seven months after their contract expired, Newport Beach lifeguards are still locked in negotiations with city officials.

The impasse centers on a request by lifeguards for a lucrative pension plan known as "3 percent at 50." Under such contracts, employees can retire at age 50 and get 3 percent of their salary for every year worked.

The payout, received annually for life, is capped at 90 percent of a worker's salary. For retirement plans, though, salary isn't just base pay, but also includes the value of certain benefits.

Similar arrangements are common for police officers and firefighters, and officials say they have been extended to lifeguards in such cities as Seal Beach and Huntington Beach.

In Newport Beach, police receive the 3-at-50 plan, and firefighters are due to switch over by year's end. Lifeguards currently have a 3-at-55 agreement, and non-safety employees get 2-at-55.

"We just wanted to be treated the same" as police and firefighters, said Brent Jacobsen, president of the Newport Beach Lifeguard Management Association.

Jacobsen said lifeguards face the same risks as their public-safety counterparts.

"How many times does a police officer or firefighter have to go swimming at The Wedge when it's 20 feet, or scuba diving at night? It's just as dangerous," he said.

It's not clear why council members have not agreed to change the benefit. Officials largely declined to comment, citing the confidentiality of contract negotiations.

But one issue could be cost. In 2005, Newport Beach faced an unfunded liability for public-safety pension plans of more than $50 million, up 20 percent from two years earlier. Last week, the City Council approved an agreement making the city's police the highest-paid in the county.

Annual pay for full-time lifeguards ranges from roughly $50,000 to $115,000, not counting overtime or benefits.

Perhaps mindful of those bills, the City Council has balked at boosting the pension benefit. Jacobsen argued that the cost would be "trivial" because the pension plan would apply only to the city's 16 full-time lifeguards, not seasonal workers.

The two sides haven't talked since early November, but the council's makeup has since shifted, with two new members joining since the fall election.

Negotiations are set to resume Tuesday, Jacobsen said.


Lifeguards to shore up support for retirement
They want a benefit given to others but need to persuade a council majority that denied it in 2005.

By Alicia Robinson

Newport Beach police and firefighters are eligible to retire at 50, and the city's lifeguards are now asking for the same benefit.

But they may have to win over the City Council, after being turned down for that benefit in their last contract.

Under the "3% at 50" provision, employees can collect 3% of their final salary for each year they worked with the city. So an employee who started working for the city at age 49 could retire at 50 and collect 3% of his or her final salary.

It's a common benefit that lifeguards in Huntington Beach, Seal Beach and San Diego, among other cities, enjoy, said Brent Jacobsen, Newport Beach Lifeguard Management Assn. president.

All Newport Beach public safety employees were given a "3% at 55" provision in 2000, and police were later granted 3% at 50. City firefighters' most recent contract lowers retirement to 50 at the end of 2007.

If lifeguards are granted 3% at 50, it would cover the 17 full-time lifeguard positions represented by the management association, but not the 225 seasonal lifeguards, who are covered by a different contract.

It's been a goal for the lifeguards for "quite some time," Jacobsen said, "but it didn't really become a reality until the fire [department] received it in this contract. With a group of 16, we weren't really in a position to go out and get something like that."

Now, with negotiations in progress, lifeguards are pushing for it more than any other benefit. But four of the seven council members — Leslie Daigle, Stevve Rosansky, Ed Selich and Don Webb — were on the City Council that turned the liifeguards down in 2005, so they may need to be persuaded.

Most council members could not be reached or declined to comment on the negotiations. Just this week, they voted for a new contract that made city police the best-compensated in the county.

Councilman Keith Curry, who wasn't on the council in 2005, said giving the lifeguards 3% at 50 wouldn't be that expensive because it doesn't cover many people. But he hasn't made up his mind. "The issue for me is going to be how do all of the elements [in the contract] fit together in terms of overall cost to the city," Curry said.

Former Councilman Tod Ridgeway, who was termed out in November, said he never supported retirement at 50 for lifeguards because "nine months out of the year, they're doing minimal work."

He also pointed to the city's $51-million unfunded pension liability for public safety employees, and he said last year one lifeguard earned $199,000.

"That's an extraordinary amount of money for a lifeguard," Ridgeway said.

City officials couldn't confirm Ridgeway's figure, but the 2006-07 budget shows the top-paid lifeguards, two battalion chiefs, will earn $172,915 in salary and benefits this year, not including any overtime.

Jacobsen rebutted Ridgeway's claim that year-round lifeguards work less in the winter. He patrols the beach and also prepares to recertify seasonal lifeguards, train new hires, and get the popular junior lifeguard program going, he said.

"In the middle of the night when it's cold and dark, it's the permanent lifeguard staff … that have to get in the wwater" for rescues, he said.

"The potential to risk our lives happens throughout the year."

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