The State Worker

California unions to San Jose mayor: Drop your pension initiative

It took a while, but the leading union coalition in the ongoing battle over California’s public pension policy has answered Mayor Chuck Reed’s invitation to meet with a letter that could be summed up in three words: “Take a hike.”

In a letter released this afternoon, more than a dozen unions represented by Californian’s for Retirement Security, brushed aside the San Jose Democrat’s sit-down offer.

“We question whether your communication is sincere or simply politically expedient,” the letter says.

Reed last month took steps toward putting a statewide pension proposal on the November 2014 ballot. The measure would, among other things, change California’s constitution so that state and local government employers could legally lower employees’ pension terms prospectively. A week ago he offered to talk things over with the unions and with Democratic and Republican leaders in the Legislature.

“Meaningful dialogue can only occur in an environment of trust and sincerity,” the coalition’s letter says. “Your choice, to first introduce this draconian and flawed measure and then invite dialogue, shows a lack of both.”

If passed by voters, Reed’s ballot measure would invalidate a body of case law that suggests pensions once promised are a “vested right” that can’t be diminished without equal alternative compensation.

That assumption is being tested in the courts right now by unions suing to overturn a Reed-sponsored ballot measure, approved by San Jose voters, that requires current workers to pay more for their pensions or switch to a less-generous plan for their remaining years of service. The benefits they accrue up to that point wouldn’t be changed.

Union Letter to Mayor Chuck Reed

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