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Judges side with unions on pension reform wording

April 10, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
In San Jose, both sides are claiming victory in a court decision on the city's controversial pension proposal. It's a battle that has pitted police officers, firefighters and other employees against City Hall.

This is all about Measure B which would reduce employee pension benefits for city workers. An appeals court ruled in favor of the union on certain issues, but both sides are putting a positive spin on it.

Hours after the ruling, city employees were on the job as usual, the firefighters union claiming victory.

"Well we're pleased with the outcome. It's what we expected," said Robert Sapien from San Jose Firefighters' Union Local 230.

At the same time, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed is applauding the court's decision.

"It's good news for the people of San Jose. The voters are going to make the decision on Measure B," said Reed.

Measure B is the June ballot measure that would reduce pension benefits for city employees. Unions say that's illegal. The mayor says it's necessary to keep the city afloat. There have already been layoffs and cuts in services. The Sixth District Court of Appeal ruled in the unions' favor saying the wording on the ballot measure was unlawfully biased.

The court took exception to the phrase "pension reform" saying it implicitly characterized the existing pension system as defective. It suggested the phrase "pension modification" instead, which the city has agreed to.

"San Jose cannot have a mayor that is above the truth and above the law. It's unacceptable and right now city employees are going to take him to task and right now the courts have agreed that the mayor cannot use his influence to be untruthful and to mislead voters," said Sapien.

The court also took issue with language in the ballot proposal that Measure B would "protect essential services including neighborhood police patrols, fire stations... streets and parks." The city agreed that language will be removed.

"The unions have filed lawsuits here trying to keep it from going to the voters and it's clear it's going to the voters. The Court of Appeal has said so and the Superior Court has said that three different times," said Reed.

Voters like Dave Van Tassell were waiting to see what happened in the courts.

"What I do is before the election, you get all the information and read about it, and by then see what both sides have to say and then figure it out," said Van Tassell.

The court also awarded legal fees in favor of the unions, the city employees. The city cannot say how much the legal battle has cost San Jose at this point. The city plans to start printing up and mailing out the ballot information and ballots next month.

If approved, the measure will reduce pension benefits for new hires. Current workers would get a choice: pay more toward their retirement or opt into a new lower-cost pension plan.


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