Chuck Reeds public-employee pension initiative is a long way from making it to a statewide vote money being the biggest hurdle but labor unions have already started blasting the proposal.
The San Jose mayors measure would, among other things, change the California Constitution to explicitly allow state and local governments in a fiscal emergency to cut future retirement costs by lowering current employees benefits prospectively but leave accrued benefits untouched. Right now, court rulings appear to give government workers an ironclad right to the pension promised on their first day of work.
The unions say that Reeds proposal will speed government pensions down the same road to near-oblivion that private-sector pensions have traveled. Here are some ways theyll fight it:
Kill it in the crib. Attorney General Kamala Harris, a Democrat with strong union backing, assigns ballot measures titles and summaries. Last year she essentially killed efforts to put a different pension initiative on the 2012 ballot with summary statements that were either provably false or grossly misleading, the measures proponents said at the time.
That, in turn, waylaid raising the $2million or so for signature collection needed to put the proposal on the ballot. Unions would love Reeds measure to get the same treatment.
Remember the real audience. Only a handful of people have checkbooks big enough and political leanings strong enough to underwrite Reeds campaign. Convince them its a lost cause and the thing will never get off the ground. Pour money into social media and maybe a traveling campaign of real people to talk about how Reeds measure would affect them. Make potential backers think twice.
Hammer out-of-state money and Wall Street. Opponents want the guy with the big checkbook in Texas to be the face of the measure, said Dan Schnur of USCs Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. He was referring to a Houston nonprofit with ties to a former Enron executive that last summer gave $200,000 to the mayors hometown chamber of commerce for pension reform research. Unions have blasted the donation. Wall Street tycoons who brought down the economy make good targets, too.
Talk up cops, firefighters and teachers. Make them the victims of Reeds proposal. Tax collectors, DMV employees and custodians? Theyd be affected too, but those jobs dont shine in voter polls.
Organize. During a radio interview last week, union spokesman Terry Brennand was asked about strategy to fight Reeds proposal. The SEIU lobbyist recalled how organized labor rallied with a boots-on-the-ground blitz last year to defeat a ballot measure that would have made it more difficult to collect union members money for political purposes. Look, Brennand said, for a repeat of that.
Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916)321-1043. Read his blog, The State Worker, at blogs.sacbee.com/the_state_worker/.