San Diego Union Appeals Ruling Upholding Pension Changes

City would have to fund retroactive pensions for more than 3,000 workers if overturned.

The board of the San Diego Municipal Employees Association (MEA) has voted to seek a review from the state Supreme Court to overturn a Court of Appeals ruling that upheld pension cutbacks.

MEA’s board of directors voted unanimously to appeal to the California Supreme Court last month’s Proposition B ruling by the Fourth District Court of Appeals. The board said that if left unchallenged, the court decision would not only prevent San Diego city employees hired on or after July 20, 2012, from being put back into a defined benefit pension system, but it could also undermine future bargaining.

Proposition B replaced guaranteed defined-benefit pensions with 401(k)-style defined contribution retirement plans for all new city employees, except police officers.

The appellate court ruling in April overturned a 2015 state labor board ruling that found that the pension cutbacks were illegal because of then-Mayor Jerry Sanders’ involvement in the initiative that made the changes.

MEA alleged that the city was required to meet and confer with employees before putting Proposition B on the ballot in 2012. Mayor Sanders and the city’s attorney argued that they were acting as “private citizens” and therefore did not have to comply with the meet and confer requirement. An administrative law judge ruled in 2013 against the “private citizen” designation, which the MEA called a ruse.

“Though he characterized his initiative campaign as the activity of a private citizen, the mayor pursued pension reform in his capacity as an elected official, and could not disown his statutory obligation,” the judge said in his ruling.

The union, which represents about 4,000 city workers, said that the process for pursuing a review with the California Supreme Court will take several months, and that a decision on whether or not the court will even hear the appeal won’t come until late summer. 

“This decision condones the opt-out scheme which Mayor Sanders and his allies adopted – and in which the City Council became complicit – to defeat rights guaranteed to all public employees under California’s statewide collective bargaining law, the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA),” said the MEA in a statement after the April appellate court ruling. “This decision is a disheartening setback in MEA’s righteous battle to gain the City’s compliance with this important statewide bargaining law.”

The MEA also said that if the ruling is not overturned, it will make it hard for the city to hire quality employees because many will take jobs with other cities that still offer defined benefit pensions.

If the California Supreme Court sides with the MEA and overturns the appellate court decision, it could mean that the city of San Diego will have to shell out millions of dollars to create retroactive pensions for more than 3,000 workers hired since 2012.


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