The Associated Press
SALEM David Beranek considers it a double whammy.
The Salem teacher suffered a life-threatening brain tumor that has left him unable to leave bed for more than a few hours a day.
He hopes to regain enough strength to get his old job back. If he does, however, he will no longer have his old pension.
Beranek, 44, is one of tens of thousands of Oregon public employees who lost their rights to top-tier benefits of the Public Employees Retirement System because of a provision enacted in 2003.
Public employees who leave PERS-covered jobs for six to 12 months return under the lower-tier pension benefits offered to new employees.
For Beranek, that means a lower guaranteed pension and several years more work before reaching retirement age.
It's a "double whammy hitting me," Beranek said. "I won't possibly be able to work all the number of years I'll need to work to be able to afford retirement."
Gov. Ted Kulongoski's administration, aware of people like Beranek, is asking the 2005 Legislature to approve two changes to the break-in-service rules.
Senate Bill 105 would exempt people who leave their jobs because of injury and disease. Senate Bill 188 would exempt seasonal workers.
Mason Young, 42, hopes the Legislature takes it a step further.
Young is one of 318 school custodians laid off by Portland Public Schools in 2002. It took Young more than a year to land another PERS job this one in the Beaverton School District.
Under the pension plan adopted by the 2003 Legislature for newly hired employees, he'll have to wait five more years until reaching retirement age. His ultimate pension also is likely to be lower, though it's not clear by how much.
"They just take and pull the rug out from under you," Young said.
Rep. Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego, helped craft the Oregon Public Service Retirement Plan for new employees. He said it's still generous compared to many other retirement plans.
The new plan guarantees workers a pension equaling 45 percent of their final salary if they work 30 years. Workers also get individual accounts, amassed from 6 percent of their salary set aside each year, known as the "employee contribution."
Once Social Security benefits begin, many public employees might still retire with pensions approaching their salary while working.
"I think that's a very good result for them," Macpherson said, noting that custodians in the private sectors typically get no pension plan outside of Social Security.
Other groups of people harmed by the break-in-service rules are young families, especially mothers who want to stay at home for awhile to be with their babies, and Mormons called to two-year missionary stints.
A public employee union-led coalition has filed suit against the break-in-service rules in Multnomah County.
"If we could fix the break-in-service through legislation, we'd probably drop the lawsuit," said Mary Botkin, lobbyist for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.