San Jose unions launch challenge to Measure B

June 6, 2012 8:55:08 PM PDT
In San Jose, police and fire unions have launched a new challenge to the city's pension reforms. Measure B, a cost-cutting plan backed by City Hall, won overwhelming support among voters -- 70 percent voted "yes." But the opponents are now turning to the courts.

Employee unions quickly delivered on their promise to challenge San Jose's voter-approved pension reform in court.

"The lawsuits allege multiple violations of the California constitution wish respect to Measure B," San Jose Police Officers' Association attorney Gregg Adam said.

Measure B calls for current city employees to pay more to keep the retirement benefit plan they have or switch to a less expensive option. Union attorneys say that amounts to broken promises.

"When a public employer says to its employees, 'We are going to give you a certain pension benefit,' that pension promise is good from the very first day that employer starts working," union attorney Christopher Platten said.

The mayor says the city charter gives voters the right to make changes in how employees are compensated. San Jose has filed its own lawsuit asking a federal judge to step in with a quick decision.

"We're going to honor all the contracts that we have with the 11 unions," Mayor Chuck Reed said. "People will keep what they have earned and accrued. What we're changing is looking forward."

San Jose's pension costs climbed from $73 million 10 years ago to $245 million this year. In light of recent layoffs and cuts to city services voters overwhelming approved changes to the pension system.

"I have to put money for my own 401K; I don't have big pension plan," Measure B supporter Sylvia Hill said.

City employees say the mayor and his allies exaggerated the city's financial crisis and voters don't understand the serious ramifications of Measure B.

"People are voting on important measure; it sure would be nice if they were required to read the whole 18 pages before they cast their vote," San Jose firefighter Jeff Barone said.

The courts will most definitely be reading the fine print of Measure B. The unions say they expect the legal wrangling to go on for years. The mayor expects a clear ruling within months. Both sides say they expect to win.

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