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An administrative law judge’s ruling creates doubts about the future of the city’s pension reforms.
The city is digging in on pension reform, despite a judge’s Monday ruling against Proposition B.
An administrative law judge with the Public Employment Relations Board wrote the city should reverse actions taken to implement Proposition B, but the city doesn’t have to follow those orders — at least for now.
Here’s a primer on the pension measure and the potential impact of this week’s ruling.
What’s Prop. B again?
Prop. B is a ballot initiative approved by voters last June. It aims to freeze employees’ pensionable pay and give most new city staffers 401(k) plans instead of pensions. The latter is projected to save the city cash in the long run but requires the city to pay off $2 billion in pension debt more quickly that it would otherwise.
For more on the measure, check out this explainer.
What’s the Public Employment Relations Board?
The Public Employment Relations Board, often called PERB, is state agency that oversees California’s collective bargaining laws. It’s considered quasi-judicial because it has a staff of administrative law judges who review potential violations. Those decisions can be appealed to an outside court.
What did the ruling say?
An administrative law judge who works for PERB ruled that former Mayor Jerry Sanders should have negotiated with city employees on all provisions of the initiative before taking it to voters.
Judge Donn Ginoza said in his ruling the mayor, who is considered the city’s top negotiator in the meet and confer process, denied the unions their right to lobby for changes.
Sanders and Councilman Kevin Faulconer developed a pension initiative in the months before the measure went on the ballot. Then-Councilman Carl DeMaio worked with the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and the Lincoln Club simultaneously on a separate initiative. The two groups later agreed on one initiative.
The city has argued that Sanders had a right to work on the initiative as a private citizen but employee union leaders disagreed. They said Sanders violated state labor laws by using his office to promote the initiative and failing to meet and confer with union leaders before finalizing the measure.
The judge echoed the union’s concerns in his ruling.
You can read the complete ruling here.
The city has 20 days to reply to the ruling and point out areas of disagreement. It can also request a formal hearing.
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said the city will file the response.
If PERB upholds the judge’s ruling, the case will likely head to the state Courts of Appeal.
Goldsmith expects the case to go before an appellate court, and said the City Council authorized him to defend Prop. B in June 2012.
“You have an obligation to defend a proposition, a citizens’ initiative,” he said.
Does the city have to make any immediate changes?
The judge ordered the city to restore pension benefits given to staffers before Prop. B passed within 10 days and cover lost pension benefits but PERB doesn’t have enforcement power.
Of course, the mayor or the City Council could take action or speak out against additional court fights.
Mayor Bob Filner has said that he’ll support the implementation of Prop. B if a court upholds it. He could not be reached for comment after the order became public.
He recently began negotiating with the city’s employee unions in hopes of reaching five-year agreements and has said he will attempt to include pensionable pay freezes in those contracts.
Goldsmith expects a possible appeal to take some time.
“We’re talking years, and in the meantime, unless a court stops us, we’re going to implement Prop. B,” Goldsmith said.
Lisa Halverstadt and Liam Dillon are reporters at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com”>firstname.lastname@example.org.
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