San Diego Puts Ill-Conceived "Prop. B" Pension Measure to Bed

San Diego Puts Ill-Conceived Prop. B Pension Measure to Bed

In an epic legal and political victory that has ramifications for the retirement security of public employees across California, the San Diego City Council has voted to join AFSCME District Council 36, AFSCME Local 127 and other City labor unions to invalidate its own pension "reform" measure, Proposition B. The overwhelming 6 to 3 vote dramatically reverses San Diego’s course. 

The City Council’s turnaround follows a long and convoluted history surrounding Prop. B, a 2012 law that was pushed by then-Mayor Jerry Sanders and the City, but which had a major problem from the outset. The measure required all newly hired workers — except for police officers — to get 401(k)-style retirement benefits instead of the defined pensions that they had legitimately won in negotiations years before. Prop. B has adversely affected thousands of City employees in diverse public service roles.

AFSCME and other unions immediately challenged the measure as illegal because the City sidestepped its obligations to collectively bargain this change.  Sanders’ outspoken advocacy of the measure, his many actions of support for it, and his use of City resources to promote it all led the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) to agree with the unions. The California Supreme Court later agreed with PERB that Prop B was the City’s initiative and that, under “settled law,” PERB was “clearly correct” in concluding that the City acted unlawfully to put Prop B on the ballot while failing and refusing to bargain with the City’s unions.

But that did not stop San Diego from aggressively pursuing the case further -- and what ensued was seven years' worth of PERB and court battles. Many other California cities watched the action closely to know where the courts would land on the issue.  Meanwhile, San Diego became a national battleground for anti-union forces.

AFSCME and other municipal unions never stopped fighting back to protect the workers and their legal teams formed a formidable alliance.

The dramatic reversal by the City Council on June 10 reaffirms the workers' retirement security as a mandatory subject of bargaining, said Rodney Fowler, President of AFSCME Local 127 (City of San Diego blue collar workers).

He is pleased by the victory but cautions that there is still work to do to put things right. Specifically, that work includes another court proceeding, known as "quo warranto."

Still, the significance of this victory for workers across California cannot be overstated. It is the first time that the City has admitted its failure with Prop. B and taken responsibility for engaging in illegal political activity.

Even the City's  politically conservative newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune, admitted in an editorial published just prior to Monday's vote, "Proposition B looks like a dead law walking," and urged City leaders to stop wasting time and taxpayer money by fighting a losing battle.