Riding that vacation pay gravy train

February 7, 2011

Interesting figures recently released showing public employees cashing in big on vacation pay and other benefits. [San Francisco Chronicle]

Case in point: San Francisco.

Former Police Chief Heather Fong – who retired in 2009 – received a grand total of $528,595 in her final year. The goodbye check included her final year base pay of $187,875, plus $303,653 for unused vacation, sick and comp time, plus $37,067 in other pay.

Now that she’s gone, she’s pulling down an annual pension of $229,500 for life.

Former Deputy Chief Charles Keohane, who exited in 2009, received $516,118 in his final year – $325,503 from accrued vacation, sick time and premium pay.

Another retiree, Commander Morris Tabak, clocked out with $425,558 – $173,703 in unused sick, comp and vacation time.

Of course, both Keohane and Tabak get six-figure annual pensions as well.

“We have no discretion on vacation payouts. They are mandatory under state law,” said San Francisco human resources spokesperson Jennifer Johnson.

Meanwhile, former BART Commander Travis Gibson earned $355,000 in his final year on the job by selling back his unused sick, comp and vacation time. That’s twice what the governor of California makes a year.

These especially golden handshakes, experts say, are perfectly legal.

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Why the heck do these people get paid hourly anyway? I keep seeing these numbers which are way above the “max” pay for a particular classification, indicating there was overtime involved. In the private sector when you receive a salary, you receive that amount of money, no matter how many hours you end up working. If you don’t take your vacation within a year or two, it gets cashed out.

Just do a little checking on our public servants and their salaries they are paid. Not all employees arte slaried, mostly department heads, management or admin.

Look at the staff time billed toward any project and then check the OT or extra time billed beyond their salary to administer that given project. County departments have O&M costs that are supposed to be figured into project costs, but there are many overages or over runs that get billed back to the public.. All departments do it and the board of sups signs off on it very year…

No private company could sign a contract for a fixed price( see Bid), then come back and claim cost over runs and then bill the customer (see public) for those costs. Happens on most projects run through the county staff offices and approved by the board of sups.

And yes most of these over runs seem to be at the management or admin levels.

Has anyone reading this article noticed that all of the examples are of people in “management” positions and not the rank and file? The article mentions a fire chief, a deputy chief and two commanders; the base pay should really be looked at seriously, but I think the most outrageous part of these examples is the adding of the vacation time to the last year of salary as a means to game the system to receive a higher pension amount. If we as citizens really want to address the problems associated with anyone as a public employee and the pay and pensions received, the more important consideration has to be not allowing the vacation time to be added to the last year of salary as a means of calculating the pensions. Reducing the pensions by not adding in the vacation time payment is where we really need to focus our attention as a concrete first step in shoring up government expenses.

Perhaps the management pay plan for San Francisco is more generous than most. The City of Bell thing didn’t make much sense, either.

I was curious, given the recent articles about the new Cal Poly president’s salary, so I did some surfing on the Cal PERS and the CSU websites and called an HR person I know for additional info. Each public employer enters into a contract with Cal PERS that sets the retirement parameters for those employed by that employer. For the CSU rank and file (custodians, groundskeepers, clerical staff and instructional support folks) they have a 2% @ 55 formula. They can retire as early as 55 and get 2% of their monthly salary times their years of service. Someone who started working there at 30 would have 25 years of service at 55. Checking the salary schedules, a bunch of those folks top out at about $3,500 a month, so they’d get about $1,800 a month on retirement. That’s less than $22K a year – before taxes. The SF Chief got more than that in ‘other’ pay!

Vacation is an earned benefit and there are limits to how much can be carried over from year to year (use it or lose it) – looks like either 272 or 384 hours, depending on how long they’ve worked there. Any unused vacation time must be paid to the employee when they retire, but Cal PERS does not consider that one-time payout in retirement calculation – only the monthly base salary is considered. They don’t have the cash-out option of unused sick leave. Other employers may have different arrangements with Cal PERS.

Checking the Cal PERS website, the three largest groups of retirees (about 230,000) take home less than $1,500 a month in retirement. 70,000 of those take home less than $600 and 80,000 take home between $600 and $1,000.

I’m thinking the everyday working folks aren’t the ones making the headlines.

It happens here in Atascadero too.

A few years ago City Manager Wade McKinney attempted to show his ability to tighten the belt by proclaiming that he and the executive staff were taking a voluntary 3% reduction in salary.

At the same time he ramped up administrative leave to 142 hours which is ridiculously high when compared to other SLO County City Managers.

In affect what this allows him to do is use his admin leave for time away from the job while banking his vacation leave. Remember that vacation hours are normally paid out at time of retirement at a higher rate than initially earned.

McKinney has truly “cut a fat hog”

There’s nothing wrong with cashing in vacation time–EXCEPT that vacation time is often accrued over a career and is cashed in at a much higher salary rate than the employee was earning when the time was banked. You can’t just steal an earned benefit away, and all accrued vacation time must be payed off as some point.

I know the people just like being appalled by large numbers, though. It is the base salaries that should be changed, not vacation pay outs. Possibly fewer benefit days as well.

Again in the private sector USE IT OR LOSE IT. 250 hours on book is PLENTY. If you don’t use, you lose.

It is NOT stealing a benifit. Again USE IT!!

The courts would, and have, disagreed with you. You earned it and it can’t be taken away. Yes, that is stealing. However, it can be cashed out automatically to prevent too many hours from accruing.

Let me clarify to avoid confusion. Yes you can sell back but for most companies it is at 250 max. Then you either sell it down or stop accuring after 250. So again why not the Gov? Why let them accumulate YEARS worth?

Take in billions as a Wall Street banker, you earned it. Play basketball or football for 50 million, you’re a hero. Sell that stock for millions just before the crash, shrewd. Work in the private sector, pay your mortgage, fund your ira and 401k looking for that promised payout then see it taken away by the “invisible hand” of unregulated commerce, you’ve been played. 40 years ago almost anyone could get a government job. But, if you did you were looked on as a loser. The real money was elsewhere. And it was, for 30 of those years. People thought they would be Ben or Kobe or Donald. Meanwhile, “losers” taught your children, put out your fires and kept you safe. These sensational public retirement numbers are trotted out to divert attention away from the megarich who gutted real estate and ira values. They are working on pensions now. Soon they’ll have your social security as well. Meanwhile they will give you circuses on Fox. Bread will still cost you.

I think that is a very good analogy. Wall Street bankers are overpaid. Professional sports stars are overpaid. Public sector mid-managers and managers are overpaid.

Here is the problem with your arguement. I agree that their is excess in the private sector.

Now not trying to defend them but I find it easier to deal with that part of working class as they produce a tangible asset. They are makers. Gov’t. jobs produce nothing (i.e. goods to sell) They are a takers. Now I am not stupid and do realize that we do need Gov’t jobs to perform certain services but AGAIN as I stated earlier in post below, I am just like the shareholder looking over a private business. If I don’t like something I try and get those in charge to reign in COSTS. Same here. As a TAXPAYER I am just like a shareholder and want to see excessive EXPENCES reigned in!!

Tangible? There is hardly anything tangible produced in my examples or in our society as a whole anymore. America produces nothing. We sell other nations products to each other or sell airtime on phones, computers and televisions. As far as shareholders are concerned, they are sheep looking to make a small percentage while the CEOs rake in bazillions. To everything there is a season. Tax cuts and service cuts and bowing to business was okay for a few years. Unfortunately, it won’t work now. Everyone has to pay up to turn the economy around. Seven degrees of separation puts all of us very near a relation who is in poverty or worse. And government pensions are not the cause. It is the latest red herring thrown out to occupy our minds and vitriol with. We are the puppets fighting back and forth about small potatoes.

Now I know that the truth will befuddle and anger the state workers lurking here that read this, that want to believe they are doing God’s work and benifiting the people of California but here it is.

I have heard the arguement from those sucking at the tet of BIG GOV. that Gov jobs are equal to private sector. HMM. Now I don’t know of any (off the top of my head) private employers that let you collect YEARS of vacation and sick pay and take it as a buy out. Most let you go to only about 220-250 hours and then it’s, use it or loose it.

Also on the pensions. Even in the hey day of the great pension or from pension places like Airline builders, I don’t recall hearing of many that get a lot of the 150k ++ pensions we hear from Gov.

Last for all you pigs at the trouf that will try the LAME defence that we are all just jealous etc. blah blah blah. NO I am not jealous. I am self employed and quite happy thanks. What makes me (as I figure most) unhappy about this, is that WE are YOUR BOSS!! WE pay your salary. So you can bet your A** that we have every right to a say. When you hire me for my services they you have a right to a say about myself. That’s how it works. So how about I suggest this. If you don’t like us the TAXPAYERS commenting about your job, how about you just go get another one!!! Try the private sector. Bet most won’t be able to hack it.

Mean-spirited and unkind, but I agree absolutely.

Nothing less than the demise of the nation rides on this very problem. I do not know where the tipping point is, but somehow we worker-ants cannot keep producing exclusively to feed our grasshopper-overlords. Whatever the solution, it needs to be that the bulk of the nation produces tangible things of value. That said, I believe the Chief of Police of SF is a tangible thing of value, but the value is more like $100K/year, not $500K.

Sometimes the truth hurts.

Very well put, the truth hurts those who deny it’s existence…

Perfectly Legal….Well the bureaucrats State and local have been working for years to benefit themselves and do little for the taxpaying public. Its time to change the law so this level of welfare is stopped. We need a law that requires the voters to determine retirement packages and salaries and benefits for these employees. These welfare receipents we call state employees need to have their checks and benefits cut back to sustainable levels. No taxes until that is done. What are these people going to do……go out and get real jobs…I doubt it. We should encourage all state employees to quit and hire a new crop at sustainable rates

Our tax dollars hard at work. Yes, Governor, PLEASE raise our taxes so we can still NOT afford to pay these ridiculous retirement packages…

Surprise, surprise…