With employees retiring at a quicker than expected rate, the state will be contracting more retirees to fill vacancies, according the governor’s budget director. Those workers will collect a paycheck on top of their pensions.
Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said his office has already approved a number temporary worker retirees, or TWRs, to fill critical positions left vacant by retirements.
“I anticipate there will be some use of TWRs, given that there were 650 retirements in one day and they were all senior people,” he said. “With a lot of people walking out the door at one time it sometimes make sense to keep somebody for a month or two while they work to find a replacement.”
The labor concessions agreement passed in August anticipated about 1,000 vacancies created by retirements to achieve $65 million of savings. But since the beginning of the year, more than 2,700 have retired. Barnes said there are currently about 3,500 vacancies in state government.
The flood of retirements is likely driven by concessions in the labor deal that made changes to the retirement benefits of state employees. The changes reduce their cost of living increases and increase the penalty for retiring early.
Barnes said the administration is still hoping to leave “well more than 1,000” positions open but said many need to be filled. State agencies have submitted re-fill plans to Barnes’ office and he said that given the current 9 percent unemployment rate it probably won’t take long to fill the necessary vacancies.
While agencies work to recruit new employees for critical positions, it’s unclear how many retirees will be contracted. Barnes acknowledged the idea of state employees “double dipping” doesn’t sit well with some people.
“I appreciate that it doesn’t make sense to let someone retire and bring them back in perpetuity as a temporary worker, they should just continue working if that’s what they want to do,” he said.
However, in limited circumstances it makes sense in many ways, he said. It’s relatively cost effective because retirees work for only 75 percent of their salaries and since the state is already required to pay their benefits there is no additional cost there, he said.
“For transition or seasonal workforce needs it’s a great way to bring experienced people who we know and we know what their capable of, and their knowledge,” he said.
A 2009 executive order by Gov. M. Jodi Rell limits the use of retired workers to no more than two 120 day contracts. Barnes said he imagines very few will be necessary beyond the first 120 days.
State employee unions are generally critical of the use of temporary retirees to fill permanent positions.
“It clearly makes more sense to fill vacancies with full-time public service workers,” said Matt O’Connor, spokesman with CSEA/SEIU Local 2001.
However in the interest of maintaining service continuity in the midst of mass retirements the temporary workers policy may be practical so long as the arrangement is very brief, he said.
“In some cases it makes sense. Often it doesn’t. We would like to be part of the discussion determining when it makes sense” he said.
O’Connor said that to his knowledge the unions have not yet been consulted about where temporary workers are appropriate. He said he hoped that will be an issue tackled during labor savings meetings with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration.
AFSCME Council 4 spokesman Larry Dorman agreed, saying that TWR contracts perpetuate the “culture of well-paid consultants and management temps.”
“We expect the Malloy administration to work with us to transform government. That means flattening the bureaucracy, driving more resources to front-line workers and implementing the cost savings ideas put forward by state workers,” he said.