Retirement-eligible workers at Robins slow to take the plunge

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE — Robins Air Force Base offers a reservoir of good, well-paying jobs, and hundreds of retirement-eligible workers are holding onto them as the economy continues to founder.

About 15 percent of 12,746 civilian employees at the giant installation are eligible to retire, said Max Wyche, acting deputy director of civilian personnel. Yet there is no mad dash to the doors. Only 386 workers retired in 2008, compared with 624 in 2007 and 412 in 2006.

“We had a spike in 2007 when the economy was better,” Wyche said, “but 2008 was much lower. We’ve had 132 retire this month, but that’s not surprising since January is our peak retirement month. We’re expecting 2009 to be similar to last year.”

The retirement-eligible number could grow to almost 40 percent by 2014, although several factors likely will determine the number of workers taking the plunge.

“Generally, baby boomers are working longer,” Wyche noted. “That’s true here and throughout industry. We’ve also had people tell us they’ve received their retirement estimates and decided not to proceed at this time. We think that’s partially due to the economy.”

Civilian workers at Robins generally fall under two retirement systems. The Federal Employees Retirement System, or FERS, applies to employees who signed on since 1984. The Civil Service Retirement System, known as CSRS, covers more senior workers.

The CSRS annuity is based on the age of the worker, years of service and average earnings from the three top salary years. Janet Hudson, an employee relations expert in the civilian personnel office, said a CSRS retiree with 30 years of service could expect to receive 56 percent of their high, three-year average salary.

“That’s the gross,” she said. “It would be reduced by survivors annuity, health and life insurance and taxes.”

The CSRS annuity is not affected by the stock market and other economic downturns, Wyche said.

“But under FERS, a percentage of the retirement income is based on the thrift savings plan,” the Warner Robins native said. “That’s a form of stock, so the economy could affect people under FERS.”

FERS retirees have a three-tiered program, since they also pay into Social Security. CSRS workers do not make Social Security payments.

The FERS annuity is based on years of service and high, three-year average salary, Hudson said.

“The second part is the thrift savings plan,” she said. “The third, of course, is the Social Security income.”

Both Wyche and Hudson believe that many FERS workers are delaying retirement to maximize their Social Security payment. “Also, the current job market may be discouraging those who want follow-on employment after they leave the base,” Wyche added. The good news is that Robins plans no significant job cuts. “That’s definitely good news for us and our work force,” the acting deputy director said.

And making sure that key positions are covered as people retire is a constant focus and concern of the personnel office. Wyche identified the key, white-collar skill sets as logistics and financial managers, contracting specialists and engineers.

On the blue collar side are electronics and avionics technicians, along with sheet-metal and aircraft mechanics.

“We have educational and hiring partnerships in place to replenish our key skill sets,” Wyche said. “We also look to veterans who are retiring or separating from the military to contribute to our work force. We have the programs in place to replenish our work force and to handle new work loads.”

To contact writer Gene Rector, call 923-3109, extension 239.