OT OK for PERS: Measure to exclude overtime pay from benefit calculations voted down

Posted: Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted down a resolution that would have asked the Alaska Legislature to exclude overtime wage rates in the calculation of benefits for the Public Employees Retirement System, or PERS, at its meeting Tuesday.

After several expressive testimonies from local employees the resolution introduced by borough Mayor Dave Carey failed in a 6-2 vote.

"If the work has been included it should be fully compensated," said assemblyman Hal Smalley, of Kenai. "You don't fix a problem on the backs of employees."

Alaska's retirement systems for public employees and teachers are significantly under-funded due to a combination of factors including health care costs, the recession and alleged actuarial errors in estimates of future costs. And the state will likely try to do something about the system deficits during the upcoming legislative session.

Terry Bookey, who works for Central Emergency Services in Soldotna, said he felt like the resolution was targeting public safety employees, whose long hours on week-on, week-off shifts demand overtime.

"I believe passing this resolution sends the message to employees we should be penalized for being under another payment system," he said.

Bookey said it is unfair to penalize employees for the mistakes of the state or its fund mangers.

Sometimes public safety employees are forced to work overtime, said Benjamin Simonds, a firefighter for Central Emergency Services in Soldotna.

It is cheaper for the borough to pay forced overtime than to hire more employees, he said.

"This could be detrimental to my family after retirement," he said.

Another public safety employee, Jack Anderson, a shift captain at Central Emergency Services, said the inclusion of overtime into retirement benefit calculations is a generous incentive to attract employees and changing the policy would take away that advantage.

Assembly President Gary Knopp, of Kalifornsky, said he did not think excluding overtime from the determination of compensation for PERS was a fix to the problem.

"If you work for it, you've got to be compensated for it," he said. "If they have to do the overtime then it has to go into retirement."

Assemblymen Ray Taurianen, of Nikiski, and Bill Smith of Homer, supported the resolution.

In the end, Carey said that the inclusion of the PERS resolution in the packet was a "checks and balances oversight."

"I didn't do my due diligence about what that resolution was actually about," he said.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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