Free Minds & Free Markets

California State Agency Effort to Nullify Pension Vote Is Eerily Totalitarian: New at Reason

Lisa Parker/flickrLisa Parker/flickrA union-controlled agency in California trying to overturn a citizen initiative passed in San Diego has finally been rebuffed in court.

Steven Greenhut writes:

If you're wondering how far unions and the California officials will go to kill any reform of the state's overburdened public pension system, wonder no more: consider instead the latest chapter, last week, in a state agency's long-running effort to invalidate San Diego's 2012 citywide vote to reform pensions.

The good news: a California appeals court rejected the Public Employment Relation Board's (PERB) efforts last week. But it's still shocking the agency's officials would have even argued that a union's right to negotiate pay and benefits trumps is the public's right to hold an election.

The story began in 2012, when San Diego reformers collected 116,000 signatures to place Proposition B before the voters. The measure moved newly hired city workers (excluding police) from a guaranteed pension to a 401(k) retirement program. It also put a five-year freeze on payroll spending as a way to cap "pensionable pay" and reduce unfunded liabilities.

A large majority of the city's voters, 66 percent, approved the measure. Unlike a measure that passed in San Jose on the same day and was subsequently gutted by the courts, San Diego's did not reduce benefits for current employees and has therefore not run afoul of something known as the "California Rule." That rule forbids officials from reducing vested benefits for government employees, even for future work.

Even though San Diego's Proposition B has passed court muster, state officials and unions continued to fight it. The PERB, a little-known California state agency, is responsible for implementing various union-related statutes and remedying "unfair labor practices." A majority of its members have worked for public-sector unions, which gives you a sense of its political tilt.


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