The Associated Press
SALEM - Lloyd Horsley wasn't planning to take an early retirement from his job with the Oregon Department of Human Services.
But when Gov. Ted Kulongoski in May signed into law a pair of bills to slash public employees' pensions and halt cost-of-living increases for recent retirees, Horsley knew what he had to do.
He took a week to think it over, then gave his two weeks' notice. He retired May 31, the cutoff date for employees wishing to avoid reforms to the Public Employees Retirement System.
"There's just so many unknowns that I was not willing to take the risk," he said.
Horsley, 56, of Salem is among a tsunami of public employees taking early retirement this year.
As of June 27, some 9,790 public employees had filed to retire in 2003 - more than one-third of them in June. That far exceeds the previous yearly record of 6,843 set in 1999.
Many worked their last day Monday, the end of the fiscal year. But about 350 state workers are still doing their jobs for a few weeks or months to help in the transition.
Motivated by PERS cuts and shrinking government budgets, the exodus runs the gamut, from agency administrators and teachers, to university professors and police officers.
The mass retirements leave state agencies, already reeling from layoffs, scrambling to make up for the loss of manpower and institutional memory, with tight budgets, fewer positions and hiring freezes.
As a result, many agencies are bringing retirees back as temps while searching for full-time replacements.
"It's just a bridge," said Clyde Saiki, chief administrative officer with the Human Services agency, where 224 people had filed for retirement as of the end of May, compared with 301 for all of 2002.
Ken Harris worked his last day Monday, ending an 18-year career as a budget officer with the Education Department. He wanted to work more years to help pay college bills for his two grown children, but uncertainty over PERS prompted him to quit.
Now, the 58-year-old Silverton resident is seeking temporary work with his old agency and has applications out to a half-dozen local businesses, some for sales clerk jobs. But he has no regrets.
"So far, I still feel like it is the only decision I could have rationally come to," he said.
For the employees that have not retired or cannot retire, heavier workloads and longer work hours are the order of the day.
"People have been feeling the pressure," said Jeanette Lake, an accounting technician with the Department of Transportation who at 43 is not close to retirement. "They (managers) ask you to do extra things and add more to your desk."