Police Unions Vow To Fight Pension Reform

Pension-reform ballot measures in two of California’s largest cities are likely to face years of court battles, police unions said.

During municipal elections in San Jose and San Diego on Tuesday, voters approved Measure B and Proposition B by 70% and 69% respectively. While the measures passed in landslide votes, unions representing officers in those cities said the ill-conceived initiatives take too hard a line and may violate state or federal statutes governing public pensions.

“The manner in which these ballot measures are being passed to malign officers is horrible,” said Officer Jeff Jordan, vice president of the San Diego Police Officers Association. “[Supporters] are not running a truthful campaign.”

The measures attacked pension reform with differing approaches to lowering city obligations to retired public employees—San Jose’s drew an immediate lawsuit from the San Jose Police Officers’ Association. However, they were both seen as test cases for pension reform in other areas of the country.

The San Jose POA has filed a lawsuit asking a superior court judge to block Measure B, a proposal that would allow current employees to choose whether to pay more to keep their existing retirement plan, or switch to a plan with reduced benefits and a higher retirement age, reports Business Week.

The plan was supported by San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, who won re-election. The city has counter-sued the POA in federal court.

Sgt. Jim Unland, POA president, said the measure will cripple police recruiting. Smaller departments in cities with stronger budgets will be able to poach officers from larger cities who impose pension reductions, he said.

“We have one lateral who has applied to our department,” Unland told POLICE Magazine. “People are leaving. People aren’t coming. I think what we’re going to turn into is a training department.

San Diego’s Proposition B imposes a six-year freeze on pay levels used to determine pension benefits unless a two-thirds majority of the City Council votes to override it. It also puts new hires, except for police officers, into 401(k)-style plans, reports Business Week.

“We’re extremely disappointed with the results of Proposition B,” Brian Marvel, San Diego POA’s president, told POLICE Magazine. “We’re still trying to digest the implications. It’s unfortunate that elected officials felt this was the only course of action instead of discussion and solving these issues in negotiations.”

The passage of the initiatives may help revive Gov. Jerry Brown’s pension-reform plan that proposes a “hybrid” pension and has stalled in the Legislature. A hybrid pension is one that includes components of a traditional police pension and a 401(k).

By Paul Clinton

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