CalPERS is one of a handful of California government departments that in 2012 added more staff than usual in the last week of the year. Those new hires were the last to accrue pension benefits under a generous formula that the state began to phase out on Jan. 1, 2013.

By Adam Ashton and Phillip Reese
February 12, 2017 – 12:01 AM

On the eve of major pension changes that would crimp retirement benefits for new hires, a handful of California government agencies went on a holiday hiring spree.

The Board of Equalization hired 25 new faces that week. Seventeen reported for their first day of work on New Year’s Eve.

The Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District brought on 23 new recruits between Dec. 24 and Dec. 31 of 2012. A spokeswoman said the department was racing to fill spots in a fire academy scheduled to begin Jan. 2, 2013.

And the state’s pension fund itself welcomed 20 new employees that week, including two well-paid investment fund managers who started work on New Year’s Eve.

Their timing was fortuitous.

By beginning work in the waning days of 2012, the employees enrolled in the California Public Employees’ Retirement System just in time to gain a generous pension formula adopted during the dot-com boom of 1999 that allowed most public workers to retire at age 55.

By contrast, most employees hired after Jan. 1, 2013, would have to work until age 67 to gain their full benefits.

Across the state, 707 people started work at local governments and state departments that participated in CalPERS during the last week of 2012. Another 64 employees from the city of Coalinga joined CalPERS that week, meaning 771 public workers entered the network just in time to become eligible for the expiring benefits.

That’s triple the average number of new hires at CalPERS-affiliated governments in the last week of the other years between 2007 and 2014. In five of those years, fewer than 275 public employees started work between Dec. 24 and Dec. 31.

The hiring spike was most pronounced on Monday, Dec. 31, 2012, when state records show 204 public employees reported to work for the first time.

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