County Jail Employees Padding Pensions Through ‘Spiking’

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – From Wisconsin to Pennsylvania, public employees are under fire as the public they work for is demanding a reduction in their benefits.

In Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, one big issue is the cost of pensions.

At a time when the pension system is underfunded, some employees are padding their pensions.

The practice is called “spiking.”

By working lots of overtime right before they retire, some public employees are able to pump up their pension payments for life.

It’s a big drain on the system, but it’s all legal and it’s going unchecked.

While locally there’s been a lot of talk about the leasing of parking garages and ways to bail out underfunded pensions, there has been precious little discussion about pension reform.

“There’s not a plan that’s been put on the table that deals with the problem,” City Controller Michael Lamb said.

A few years back, KDKA-TV uncovered the problem of runaway pension costs through spiking by County Police at the Pittsburgh International Airport.

Under law, county employee pension benefits are determined not only by their base salary when they retire, but the overtime they average in their last two years.

At the airport, several officers loaded up on overtime before retiring, which significantly increased their pensions.

“We took care of it at the airport and now we’ve looked at this at the jail,” Allegheny County Controller Mark Flaherty said.

The county reigned in spiking by reducing overtime and spreading it around to other officers, but it has gone unchecked at the Allegheny County Jail.

A review of overtime records of corrections officers showed that several piled on the overtime in their last two years before retirement.

One officer, who had been averaging $7,000 a year, made an average of $30,000 in his last two years. Another, who made an average of $13,000 a year in overtime, jumped to an average of $40,000 in his last two years.

A third, who had been averaging $36,000 a year in overtime, made a staggering average of $61,000 in overtime in his last two years. That means taxpayers will pay this guard an extra $40,000 a year in pension benefits.

“The taxpayers and the pensioners are getting shortchanged by this abuse that’s going on,” Flaherty said.

KDKA’s Andy Sheehan tried in vain to contact the president of the Corrections Officers Union. In the past, the union has called on the county to hire more guards to reduce the overtime.

Controller Flaherty said while new hiring would reduce the problem, it will not solve it and the county has called on Harrisburg for help.

“We have an anti-spiking bill up at the legislature. It’s been there for two years,” Flaherty said.

While the elimination of spiking will not be a cure-all, City Controller Lamb said it’s one piece of the big problem.

“We need to look at retirement ages, we need to take a look at defined contributions – at least voluntarily for employees – and, we need to take a look at spiking. And all of these issues that help hold down the cost of pensions so we can continue pay pensions to the people we’ve promised them to,” Lamb said.

The battle over public pensions is just heating up, but reining in costs are likely to be limited.

The courts have ruled that pension benefits promised to employees at the time of their hiring are pretty much set in stone.


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One Comment

  1. JAUN says:


    1. Carlos says:

      This has been going on for YEARS by the Sheriff’s Department and Correctional Officers. I started working at the County Jail in 1981 and it was going on then!
      A little too late people! Something should have been done YEARS AGO. There is A LOT more going on. Just got to dig deeper News Reporters!

  2. Cathy Smith says:

    I’m pretty sure overtime is suppose to be managed by management. It’s not up to the employee. There isn’t a government agency (county or state or federal) where the employee gets to assign themselves overtime without management’s approval somewhere along the line. If this is such a big problem then shouldn’t management be tasked with stopping it. I understand that there are staffing issues, but somebody has to do the work. Either hire more workers so there isn’t a need for overtime or except the fact that people are going to be paid overtime. Somebody has to do the work and slavery ended 150 years ago.

    Nice try at slanting the news though…

  3. No Unions says:

    Another example of unions ruining this country with a bunch of loopholes.

  4. Sharon says:

    Well, if I had the opportunity to do this – I would. It’s legal and they are doing the work. So what’s the problem?

    1. local says:

      idiots like you

      1. Sharon says:

        Why am I an idiot? There is nothing illegal or unethnical about this situtation.

  5. SAMBAM says:

    The problem is that its contract time for Allegheny County Jail Guards and of course the management has no control or competence to make decent negotiations so they run their mouths about things like this to make the guards look greedy and like they are ruining the “system” . Call offs for the Superbowl…hmm, because they let all the housing units “stay out” to watch the game? I thought criminals had to walk a fine line because they chose to lose their freedom when they committed the crime. So of course you need more bodies. Staffs fault. Or let’s have a discussion on the ways the jail has improved since certain people have filled certain positions or how things have gone down hill since other positions were filled. Please do not say the staff at the jail should hire new bodies. The staff should NOT do the hiiring only because they seem to let known criminals have jobs. That’s pretty interesting in itself. How about an investigation on that? These people have the chance of being forced into mandatory overtime at a seconds notice for another 8 hr shift, the chance of being hurt or losing their lives, missing holidays with families because they chose to be upstanding people who can hold jobs and have excellent work ethics. So tell me how anyone has the right to take that away. If the “staff” is that stupid…get them the hell out of there!

  6. redrock100 says:

    keep voting for democrats. this is what u get

  7. Eazytime says:

    Keep voting for the Republicans and the low to moiddle class gets the SHAFT.

  8. Get the facts says:

    No one mentioned a large monthly contribution is taken out of every Officers pay towards there pension.Check that out Andy!!

  9. local says:

    you must be one of the abusers/or at least related to one.

    1. Joseph Puskar says:

      i agree local…they should backpay there pension to average of pay over last 10 yrs

  10. Don Lucente says:

    Spiking Has Been Going On At PENNDOT For Years! The State Has To Open It’s Eyes And Change The System! Taxpayers Are Getting Ripped Off Bigtime!

  11. critter says:

    low and middle class or lazy?

  12. redrock100 says:

    Democrats and pirates. same thing.

  13. Little Pepe says:

    Put them on a 401K plan like the rest of the middle class. That never comes up since the Unions control the democrats and democrats run the city.

  14. Carlos says:

    This has been going on for YEARS by the Sheriff’s Department and Correctional Officers. I started working at the County Jail in 1981 and it was going on then!
    A little too late people! Something should have been done YEARS AGO.

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