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Pension Ballot Initiative Update

As you know, the June 2012 ballot measure known as Comprehensive Pension Reform (“CPR”) is bad policy for the City of San Diego and bad policy for City employees. The authors of the initiative, including Mayor Jerry Sanders and Councilman Carl DeMaio, propose a number of City Charter changes related to pensions that would take our City and its workforce backward, not forward. Those proposed changes include the elimination of defined benefit pensions for employees hired after January 1, 2013; a five-year freeze on pensionable pay for current employees; and the elimination of employee voting rights that have served to protect many of our benefits for the last several decades.

From the very beginning, we have been saying that CPR may be difficult—if not impossible—to beat at the ballot box given the public frenzy about public employee pensions which has been stirred up with years of misinformation and political rhetoric. But we have also said that we feel confident that we have a number of solid legal arguments that are ultimately likely to render the initiative legally invalid. We have and will continue to pursue those legal challenges with everything we have.

In late January, MEA filed an unfair labor practice charge against the City of San Diego with the State’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB). (Click on the PDF titled, “MEA CPR Charge” to read a copy of our complaint.) In February, PERB responded by filing a lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court to stop the initiative from going on the ballot based on the merits of our complaint. (Click on the PDF titled, “PERB Filing for Injunctive Relief” to read PERB’s lawsuit.)

A few weeks ago, a judge rejected that attempt to stop the initiative from going to the voters, but he emphasized that he was simply ruling that the proper time to challenge the initiative was after the vote—not before—and that he was not ruling on the merits of the complaint. Subsequently, our request to expedite the formal hearing process on our PERB complaint was granted, and the hearing is now scheduled in April before an Administrative Law Judge in Glendale. If that judge agrees with MEA that the City committed an unfair labor practice by sponsoring the ballot initiative, the CPR ballot initiative is in big trouble no matter what happens at the polls.

Perhaps that is why the City and CPR proponents have filed two lawsuits trying to stop the PERB hearing from even moving forward. It is fair to say that the City Attorney and CPR proponents are acting a bit desperate in their attempts to try and stop the hearing from moving forward, especially since they know that State labor law is clearly not on their side related to their handling of CPR. (The City has even threatened to “boycott” the hearing process, which would be fine with us because it would make the judge’s job much easier!)

You may have heard the City Attorney and other CPR supporters in the past few weeks breathlessly label our PERB charge as “meritless and frivolous” in media interviews. If this is true, then why are they trying so hard to stop the hearing from happening at all? Why is their public rhetoric so different from their court filings and legal strategies? We may very well find out in April…assuming the City’s long shot attempts to stop the proceedings are unsuccessful, and assuming the City decides to show up for the hearing!

In the meantime, MEA continues to actively engage in the public debate over CPR. General Manager Mike Zucchet has participated in a number of interviews and debates in the past few weeks, including a recent Channel 39 TV debate with a CPR proponent, which you can watch here as well as a recent back-and-forth with Carl DeMaio on KPBS radio which you can listen to here (please click on the audio button just below the title and date on the KPBS webpage).

In addition, Mike made a presentation to the City Council a few weeks ago where he demonstrated that the “billions” in savings claimed by CPR proponents is completely bogus. You can watch that presentation here (Mike’s presentation begins at 25 minutes and 3 seconds.) In the coming week, the City’s Independent Budget Analyst will finalize her independent fiscal impact analysis of the initiative. We are confident that that analysis will support our claims that the initiative will actually cost the City money in the short run, and save significantly less in the long run than promised by the Mayor and other CPR supporters.

It is going to be an interesting few weeks ahead for the legal challenges to CPR. As always, we will keep you posted on the developments. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact MEA for more information on CPR or any other issue at 619-264-6632.

MEA CPR Charge
PERB Filing for Injunctive Relief