In an epic legal and political victory that has ramifications for the retirement security of public employees across California, the San Diego City Council has voted to join AFSCME District Council 36, AFSCME Local 127 and other city labor unions to invalidate its own pension “reform” measure, Proposition B.
The 6-3 vote on June 10 reverses San Diego’s course.
The city council’s turnaround follows a long and convoluted history surrounding Proposition B, a 2012 law that was pushed by then-Mayor Jerry Sanders and the city, but which had a major problem from the outset. The measure required all newly hired workers – except for police officers – to get 401(k)-style retirement benefits instead of the defined pensions that they had legitimately won in negotiations years before. Proposition B has hurt thousands of city employees in diverse public service roles.
AFSCME and other unions challenged the measure as illegal because the city sidestepped its obligations to collectively bargain this change. Sanders’ outspoken advocacy of the measure, his many actions in support for it, and his use of city resources to promote it all led the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to agree with the unions.
Eric Monroy, an equipment operator of the City of San Diego’s Public Utilities Department, said this victory goes a long way in retaining dedicated employees.
Hired in 2012 when the pension plan was cut, Monroy said, “This win makes me want to stay with the City of San Diego and makes me feel that my service is valued.”
Monroy added, “Our members don’t work for the City of San Diego just for a paycheck, it’s about providing a service to the San Diego community. Despite not have a pension plan, our members stayed in public service because we love our jobs. I’m happy to know that after our years of service, we have the option to retire with dignity.”
The California Supreme Court agreed with PERB that Proposition B was the city’s initiative and that, under “settled law,” PERB was “clearly correct” in concluding that the city acted unlawfully by putting Proposition B on the ballot while failing and refusing to bargain with the city’s unions.
But that did not stop San Diego from aggressively pursuing the case further – and what ensued was seven years’ worth of PERB and court battles. Many other California cities watched the action closely to learn where the courts would land on the issue. Meanwhile, San Diego became a national battleground for anti-union forces.
AFSCME and other municipal unions never stopped fighting back to protect the workers and their legal teams formed a formidable alliance.
“The dramatic reversal by the city council earlier this month reaffirms the workers’ retirement security as a mandatory subject of bargaining,” said Rodney Fowler, president of Local 127. “This has had a huge impact on recruitment and retention since 2012. I’m happy that this victory put us on the road to making things right, but we still have further to go.”
(Contributing: Jashua Bane)