President’s Message, 4th Quarter of 2011
A man was walking the streets of downtown a few weeks ago asking people to sign a ballot initiative to “protect pensions for firefighters.” When asked if this was the Jerry Sanders/Carl DeMaio initiative that actually seeks to take away pensions from firefighters and most other City employees hired after next year, the man said “No, actually this will only take pensions away from politicians so that they don’t collect $300,000 a year like they do now.”
So that’s how it went in the most dishonest signature gathering campaign in the history of San Diego politics. The supporters of the “CPR” (Comprehensive Pension Reform) ballot initiative stopped at nothing to get this on the ballot. They paid their contract signature gatherers so much money per signature that they said literally anything to try to get people to sign.
Some signature gatherers were caught on tape lying about everything from how the initiative will lower gas prices to how it will protect the environment. Those tapes were sent to the Attorney General and other enforcement agencies, but it is not clear if anybody seems to care just how broken San Diego’s (and California’s) out of control “citizens” ballot initiative process really is.
The good news is that MEA, together with a coalition of other labor interests in town, had some success with the “Decline to Sign” campaign, which shadowed paid signature gatherers at various locations around the City for the last few months. Our success forced the campaign to change their tactics and go to voters’ mailboxes and door-to-door to collect signatures, which is a significantly more expensive way to gather signatures. The bad news is that anti-union interests in town, led by Mayor Jerry Sanders and Councilmember Carl DeMaio, raised around $1 million to literally purchase signatures to get their initiative on the June ballot.
MEA participated in the Decline to Sign campaign because the easiest way to defeat the initiative is to keep it off the ballot. At press time for this publication, the initiative proponents have turned in 145,000 signatures (they need about 95,000 valid signatures to qualify the initiative), but they have not yet been verified by the Registrar of Voters. After the Registrar makes an initial determination, we may also demand that every signature be independently verified, an expensive process but one that may reveal just how fraudulent the signature campaign has been.
Unfortunately, with a million dollars and media hysteria on their side, it is very likely that they will get the initiative on the ballot. That is why MEA and our attorney Ann Smith have also been engaged on the legal side of this fight for some time now. We believe that the proposed initiative is legally flawed in a number of areas, most notably that the proposed ballot measure masquerades as a “citizen’s initiative” when really it is sponsored by Mayor Jerry Sanders and the City of San Diego. As such, it should properly be considered a City-sponsored initiative under State law, which means that the City’s refusal to meet and confer with MEA regarding the contents of the initiative violates the law that guides labor relations in California.
MEA will continue to fight this costly (and likely illegal) ballot measure on all fronts. Assuming its supporters get the required signatures to put it on the ballot, the initiative’s legal flaws may spell its demise. In the meantime, please try to ignore the political madness swirling around the proposed measure and know that we are working hard to make sure that negotiations over your salary and benefits remain at the bargaining table, not the ballot box.
Finally, take note that Phil’s BBQ, Jerome’s Furniture, and Karl Strauss Brewery are but a few of the San Diego businesses that have dedicated significant resources to the initiative…feel free to let them know how you feel about that by taking your business elsewhere!