Filner's Promise Kept: Five-Year Labor Deal Affirmed

Bob Filner

Filner's Promise Kept: Five-Year Labor Deal Affirmed

Mayor Bob Filner pledged to reach five-year deals with the city’s labor unions.

Image: KeptThe Promise:To sign five-year contracts with the city’s six employee unions.


Mayor Bob Filner just made good on one of his boldest campaign promises.

The City Council unanimously approved five-year deals with all six of the city’s labor unions on Monday after weeks of negotiations with both City Council members and labor unions. All include pensionable pay freezes.

As a candidate, Filner promised to reach five-year agreements with the city’s labor unions that incorporate such freezes, an element key to the budget savings associated with the city’s controversial pension initiative. Though the mayor opposed Prop. B, he said he’d try to implement the pension pay freeze despite an ongoing legal battle.

Now he’s done it and Monday’s vote all but ensures significant budget savings for the city.

An outside analysis found that the city could shave $25.2 million from its pension bill for the year that begins in July with six five-year deals. The lesser bill comes because the pension system assumes annual increases in workers’ pensionable pay. Long-term deals allow the system to assume no pay hikes.

This pledge is one of many we’re tracking as part of our effort to evaluate the mayor’s performance. (You can check the full list of promises we’re following here.)

Filner and his negotiating team ultimately managed to broker five-year deals despite resistance from some City Council members and labor leaders. All needed an incentive or assurance to sign off.

On Monday, conservative council members Filner characterized as initially hesitant to sign off touted budget savings associated with the deals. Labor leaders looked on as they approved average compensation increases of 5.25 percent for most city staffers and 7 percent for police officers over the next five years.

“We have a real opportunity to not just implement pension reform but to bring in significant savings,” Councilman Kevin Faulconer said.

Some union leaders told the City Council they were hopeful they’d see additional increases in years to come.

They’ll have the opportunity to press for them. Each contract allows union leaders to request additional negotiations after three years, when employees hope the economy and city finances will be rosier.

Regardless, securing signatures and votes on a five-year deal is no small feat.

I explained the significance of these agreements last month:

Regardless of any budget changes Filner makes, the five-year deals are unprecedented. A handful of state and San Diego area labor experts who spoke to Voice of San Diego earlier this year couldn’t point to deals with employees that endured for more than three years. Even three-year labor deals are rare among local governments.

Filner’s success may also allow him to avoid wage-related battles with the city’s labor unions for much of his mayoral term. The contracts guarantee the city’s unions can’t approach officials about potential non-pensionable wage increases until the 2017 fiscal year. Labor leaders are all but certain to take advantage of these clauses but the contracts they’re expected to sign are for five years.

We’ll likely learn just how much the city will save with five-year deals in coming weeks. Now that the City Council has approved the five-year deals, an actuary must run the numbers and share them with the city’s pension board, which will then decide whether the five-year deals and the resulting pay savings merit changes to the city’s long-term pension bills. The board must approve the changes before July 1.

Regardless of board’s findings, the mayor’s campaign promise falls squarely in the “Kept” column.

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