Record numbers of public employees in Wisconsin are planning to retire because of fears that they could lose promised benefits if they don’t.
The Boardman law firm, which advises unions on contract matters and benefits, sent a letter union lawyers last week warning them that the state could revoke certain health insurance benefits.
“The only way to guarantee receipt of the SHI [Supplemental Health Insurance] benefit [accrued sick time that converts to health insurance premiums after retirement–worth tens of thousands of dollars in many cases] will be to resign State employment,” attorney Steven C. Zach wrote. “Receipt of the benefit is conditioned upon retirement, death, or layoff.”
“[T]here are no assurances that, as of March 13, 2011, the SHI benefit will be available under the terms of the current colective bargaining agreement… The worst case scenario is tha WSAA members would lose that benefit both retrospectively and prospectively on that date.”
Workers depending on those health insurance benefits must notify the state of their intentions to retire 14 days before March 13.
As a result of the firm’s advisory, public agencies that handle retirement benefits were being swamped by employees trying to get out in a hurry.
During the week of Feb. 14-18, the Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds received three times more requests for retirement estimates than the same period in 2010.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) insists that state workers contribute 5.8 percent of their pay to retirement benefits, and 12 percent to health insurance premiums. This could mean that even the lowest paid staff could be losing $600 out of their check each month.
Patrick Donnelly, an attorney for the state, made his decision to retire within 24 hours after receiving the notice from the Boardman law firm.
“I’m as angry as I’ve ever been in my life,” Donnelly told The Progressive’s Ruth Connif, speaking to her from his retirement party.
“I get to walk away from this,” he added. “I was close to retiring anyway, and, as attorneys, we operate at the highest level of state salaries. But for the young people and the clerical staff in our office, these cuts are going to be devastating.”