Dispute Over Retirement Changes In San Jose Police, Fire Heads To Court

SAN JOSE, CA &#8211 Attorneys for the San Jose Police Officers’ Association on Monday elaborated on two lawsuits they filed against the city of San Jose — one that seeks to force the city back to the bargaining table and another that alleges the city violated the union’s contract by trying to change retirement benefits through an election rather than arbitration.

Filed late Friday in Santa Clara County Superior Court, the first lawsuit says the city failed to adequately “meet-and-confer” before the City Council voted to push a pension reform ballot measure forward, first on Dec. 6 and then when finalizing it on March 6. It also says that the impasse declared by the city last fall was broken by new proposals from both the police and firefighter unions and the city, and by the city’s changing financial situation. In particular, the unions cite the improved projections given in early December, and the more recent news that there will be no budget deficit in the upcoming fiscal year. The union says that should have prompted renewed discussions.

The police officers’ union says the city refused to bargain with its members between Nov. 13 and when the council voted March 6 to place the measure on the June 5 ballot.

City Attorney Rick Doyle disputes the accusations.

“The city’s negotiation team more than satisfied the meet-and-confer requirement,” Doyle said Monday. “They went through all the negotiation and mediation sessions that were required under the law.”

The union also alleges that the city knowingly provided false and misleading information to its members about the city’s financial condition throughout bargaining. In February, employee unions filed an ethics complaint against city officials including Mayor Chuck Reed and Retirement Services Director Russell Crosby alleging that they inflated the city’s projected pension liability for fiscal year 2015-16 by $250 million to $650 million in order to force concessions from unions. Both Reed and Crosby have said the $650 million figure was a worst-case scenario.

The union asks that the court send the parties back to the negotiating table and prohibit the ballot measure.

The second suit seeks to compel the city to enter into arbitration. The union says that any impasse between the parties under the contract must be resolved by arbitration as spelled out under a specific section of the city’s charter.

The union is asking an arbitrator to determine whether the city violated the union’s contract by seeking to change benefits through a ballot measure rather than through arbitration.

Again, Doyle disagreed with the union’s allegation, saying arbitration “is premature before the vote.”

But union attorney Gregg Adam says the police officers’ union contract specifies that the only way to change retirement benefits covered by the contract is through arbitration.

“The city is reneging on the commitment it made in its bargaining agreement with the union,” he said, adding that the California Supreme Court has clearly held that voters cannot override a collective bargaining agreement that was lawfully entered into between a union and city.

The two lawsuits follow another one filed Friday in Superior Court by San Jose employees who are suing both the city and Santa Clara County to block the June pension reform ballot measure, claiming the wording illegally attempts to sway voter approval instead of remaining neutral.

Doyle said the ballot language is similar to other tax measures that have been pitched to voters.

City workers have said for some time that the ballot measure is an illegal breach of their vested pension rights. The measure would reduce pension benefits for new hires and require current workers to pay more toward their retirement unless they switch to a plan with reduced benefits and costs. Retirees could see 3-percent annual cost-of-living increases suspended if the city declares a fiscal emergency.

From The San Jose Mercury News.

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