The Associated Press
PORTLAND Roughly one-third of the public employees who retired last year have since returned to their jobs as part-time workers or consultants.
Most are longtime employees who felt forced to retire early to avoid cuts in their pension checks after last year's overhaul of the Public Employee Retirement System.
An analysis by the Oregonian newspaper, reported in Saturday editions, shows the state's rehiring of retirees quadrupled in 2003 to more than 1,000 workers as a record about 3,000 public employees retired.
The rehired workers continue to receive similar salaries plus their pension checks, but most get no health, vacation or sick-leave benefits. State officials say they save money and time by hiring back workers who already know the job and can train their replacements a new generation of employees locked into lower pension benefits.
But critics say rehiring retirees looks bad to taxpayers already exasperated by what they call generous pensions.
In 2002, public employees retiring after 30 years of work received an average of 79 percent of their working salary. PERS members hired before 1996 can retire with full benefits at age 58 or at any age after 30 years of service.
"It's inexcusable someone leaves their job and retires, but not really retires, and they come back the next day to the same job, and they're essentially pulling two paychecks," said Russ Walker, director of the Oregon chapter of Citizens for a Sound Economy. "One in the form of a retirement and one in the form of a consultant."
Another critic, Richard Burke, executive director of the Libertarian Party of Oregon, said rehiring retirees "hurts public employees because whenever they game the system like this, which is what they're doing, it builds resentment among average people against public employees in general."
Public employees, however, say the PERS pensions help make up for state salaries that, in most cases, lag below private-sector pay for similar jobs. Some pension increases, they note, were negotiated in lieu of raises.
The rehirings, which continue this year, range from prison guards to workers who determine unemployment benefits to the No. 2 transportation official who is overseeing much of the state's massive $2.5 billion bridge and road repair effort.
Duane Ackerson, 61, an economist who retired five years earlier than he planned, continued to work for a month and a half last year at the state Employment Department. About 90 percent of the rehired workers stay on for six months or less.
Ackerson says the temporary rehiring of retirees is good for employees as well as for the state, which gets the services of experienced employees without costly benefits.
"There were some things they needed me to help out on," he said. "I don't really see any downside."
Information from: The Oregonian