Public employee unions are turning up their offensive to prevent changes to public sector retirement programs. In the wake of proposed state initiatives pulled back by proponents because they say the Attorney General’s title and summary did not fairly reflect the measure, a proposed San Diego initiative to reform the city’s pension system has suddenly been threatened with a lawsuit to keep it off the ballot.
The state’s Public Employment Relations Board is expected to ask a Superior Court judge to put the initiative aside while it examines if an unfair labor practice occurred. That charge came in a complaint from the Municipal Employees Association, which opposes the initiative that would create a 401(k) system for new city workers and freeze pay used to calculate pensions for five years.
The union’s allegation is that Mayor Jerry Sanders violated the law by working on the initiative to avoid negotiations with employee unions. Pretty thin grounds for a complaint when the initiative is a device used by private citizens and is not subject to negotiations. Sanders was acting as a private citizen when he pursued his efforts on the initiative.
Elected officials have involved themselves in the initiative process as private citizens before. One example, then Attorney General John Van de Kamp put three initiatives on the ballot in 1990 on crime and drugs, ethics and the environment.
City officials believe the initiative will withstand any judicial review. However, it appears that a union strategy exists on pension issues to manipulate the ballot process to seek more favorable results or cause disruptions and delays.
Union pressure convinced the legislature and the governor to move state initiatives from the June to the November ballot because the unions believed they would have a better chance of defeating the Stop Special Interest Money initiative in November. That measure could restrict union and corporate political funds. The unions felt November would offer a more union-friendly voter turnout when the presidential election is contested.
The San Diego lawsuit is designed to delay the San Diego pension reform from the June ballot and push it back to November for the same reason. A secondary hope from those filing the complaint seeking court action is that the court would simply make the initiative disappear.
San Jose also has a pension measure scheduled for the June ballot – for now. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed is facing a complaint filed by the unions accusing Reed of inflating pension costs to unfairly bargain with the union, which set the stage for the pension ballot measure.
In San Bernardino County, supervisors proposed a measure that would allow voters to approve any retirement benefit increases. Within days, one of the county’s largest unions announced it would begin an initiative drive to make the supervisors positions part time while cutting supervisors’ pay, benefits and staff.
Clearly, the union offensive is to prevent voters from having a say on certain reforms that effect taxpayers dollars and public union power and influence. Apparently, union leaders have read the polls dealing with taxpayers’ concern about pensions’ effect on local budgets and they fear the voters’ response at the ballot box.