A Fox undercover operation in Boston has exposed shady, but legal loophole in the Massachusetts Department of Correction that allows managerial and administrative workers to retire many years earlier than they would otherwise be entitled to receive full pension benefits.
Here’s the way it works: A department employee in another group, makes a career switch and becomes a correction officer, a more hazardous job that allows employees to retire far earlier than other positions. As long as the employee remains a corrections officer for 12 months, they are treated for retirement purposes as though they spent their entire employment in that position.
The practice is known as group jumping, and Fox found 14 instances of the practice since 2005.
One such employee interviewed briefly by Fox, was Cheryl Nelson. She spent nearly thirty years working as an office assistant in the department, before becoming a corrections officer in 2008. She acknowledged that she is on track to now retire with a full pension 11 years than she could have as an administrative employee.
Nelson disagreed she was gaming the system. “It helps me as a single person to better my retirement. I’ve got to think about my future,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve taken advantage of anything with the state. Absolutely not,” she said.
Mike Widmer, President of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation disagreed with her assessment and said there was only one reason an employee would switch to a corrections officer at the end of their career, that being to enhance their pension benefits at the expense of taxpayers.
Widmer called maneuver legal “but it’s absolutely wrong. It’s wrong morally and it’s wrong fiscally.” He added that group jumping has been going on for years.
Gov. Deval Patrick has already weighed in on the issue, and suggested a special commission look into the problem, but last year’s legislative body failed to do so. The governor’s spokesman, Jay Gonzalez, said that a comprehensive pension reform package is in the works and will be proposed early this year.