No bonuses for just doing your job

Joe Tarica.
Joe Tarica.

It was with no shortage of disdain and a bit of jealousy that I read the Los Angeles Times story last week detailing the 99 bonuses approved for public workers by their decadent pension fund.

Depending on where your little cog fits in the massive machine of government, you may be eligible for one or more ridiculous perks that, when calculated across thousands of workers and years of employment and retirement, will end up costing California taxpayers billions of dollars.

This summer, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System — in some misguided concept of reform — adopted a Christmas list of bonuses for routine tasks, allowing workers from the state Capitol to the smallest city hall and elsewhere, to inflate their pay and, as a result, their retirement income in turn.

The bonuses date to 1993, when CalPERS got a bill passed giving it the power to create a list of perks that could be applied to pensions. In 2012, a pension reform law aimed to curb some of this practice by existing employees but didn’t clarify how it would apply to new hires.

With its vote in August, CalPERS has now approved the list of 99 for everyone, and it did it without even offering a guess at the long-term cost.

In many cases, these bonuses are attached to activities that can be described as nothing less than reasonable and normal expectations of the affiliated jobs. In other words, these duties should very much be within their job descriptions.

Some examples, forthwith:

• A librarian can claim a bonus for taking on the onerous task of showing a patron how to find a book.

• An employee who regularly works on ladders can claim the Height Premium. • Part-time school employees can scoop up extra dough for spending time doing yard duties.

• Police officers can grab a bonus for the time they spend pumping iron at the gym.

• Firefighters can claim a premium for the effort they spend pushing papers instead of dousing flames, even during their normal work hours.

Each of these perks has a nice little title, like the Traffic Detail Premium, which goes to people who, believe it or not, are assigned to direct traffic.

The tech guy who sets up the mayor’s PowerPoint display may receive the Audio-Visual Premium.

And the person who adjusts the lights for a school assembly can get the Auditorium Preparation Premium.

Excuse me while my head explodes.

Is it just me, or could all of these bonuses just be renamed as the Do Your Job Premium, at which point any rational person would strike them from the books immediately, fire the authors and create pay scales that suitably match the duties required?

Because that is all that’s going on here … people doing their jobs. Anywhere else, when you take a job as a secretary, you don’t get a bonus for doing everyday secretary work.

Makes you wonder how they even stopped where they did.

If they can think up 99 inane extra-pay classifications for otherwise mundane work, why quit there? How did they even figure out to finish before a tidy 100? Would triple digits have been simply too grossly offensive to muscle through negotiations?

I mean, we’re on a roll. Let’s keep going.

Where’s the Answering the Phone Premium? Or the Driving a Lawnmower Premium? How about the Sending an Email to Your Boss Premium?

While we’re at it, since we’re apparently flush with cash to hand out willy-nilly, let’s also pay them not to do obvious things, like how about the Don’t Steal Pens from Work Premium or the Don’t Proposition Your Coworkers for Sex Premium?

In no short order, you see, we can go from the merely completely ridiculous to the absolutely stick-a-fork-in-your-brain absurd.

It becomes easy to rationalize a further glide down a slippery slope now lubed with an inch of motor oil and hydraulic grease.

Except the thing is, we shouldn’t be rationalizing this, we all know we’re not flush with cash, and local governments can’t afford these bloated pension obligations.

You will be happy to learn, if you work in the private sector and get no such sweet deals, that Gov. Jerry Brown is on the case. He was the one who made an effort in 2012 to stop some of this behavior, and he’s working now to get the latest perks reversed.

But he and other lower administrators are taking on some powerful forces at CalPERS who, as San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed told the Times, are continuing to “work against any kind of reform.”

Yeah, if I had a bunch of nifty little bonuses like this, I’d be kicking and screaming to keep them, too.

Except I’m not paid by the people of California, and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be too thrilled to know more of their money is going to comical pay boosters instead of more police officers, more school teachers, better roads … you name it.

I’m not a foe of government, but it’s shenanigans like this that give government a bad name and critics ample cause to tar the whole lot.

CalPERS and anyone who enables this kind of slush would be wise to remember that.