CA Public Permanent-Temp Workers Entitled to Benefits

February 27, 2004 ( - Public workers in California hired and staffed through a staffing agency cannot be denied retirement benefits.

>The California state Supreme Court upheld two lower courts’ decisions that the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California violated California law in not allowing the so-called permanent-temporary workers to receive benefits offered by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS).   The water agency maintained it could exclude workers paid through private companies, even if they would be employees under common law principles, according to an Associated Press report.

>The class-action suit, involving about 3,000 people, was filed in Superior Court in 1998 and contends that the workers were told they were coming on board for temporary jobs.   The suit also claims plaintiffs were actually permanent workers employed by the water agency, which entitled them to the same retirement benefits due to regular MWD employees.

>In the high court’s ruling, the judges only considered whether the water agency is required under the Public Employees’ Retirement Law to enroll people considered Water District employees in CalPERS.   However, the plaintiffs also want a court order requiring the Water District to refer them to CalPERS for enrollment. They will then ask CalPERS to give them credit for their public service as employees of the Water District.

“The message goes to public employers in California and says that if someone is truly your employee … that you have to include them in the pension system,” said attorney Walter Cochran-Bond, who represents plaintiffs.