On Jan. 19, the Municipal Employees Association—the labor union that represents 3,800 San Diego city workers—filed an unfair labor practices charge with the state's Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), arguing that the city violated labor law by not meeting with its unions to discuss a pension-reform measure slated for the June ballot. PERB is a quasi-judicial agency that's charged with enforcing the state's collective bargaining rules.
Mayor Jerry Sanders is both a co-author and key advocate of the measure that would, among other things, close the city's pension system to all new employees except police officers and impose a five-year salary freeze on all city workers. As the city's lead labor negotiator, the MEA argues, Sanders must engage in what's known as "meet and confer" with the unions over changes to employees' wages and working conditions. As we've reported, that's what happened in 2008 when Sanders proposed a different pension-reform ballot measure. Following the advice from then-City Attorney Mike Aguirre, he met with the labor unions and they hammered out a deal that was lauded by everyone involved as "comprehensive pension reform."
This time around, Sanders has said that he's supporting the measure as a private citizen to avoid having to meet with the unions. As he told us last month, “You do that so that you get the ballot initiative... that you actually want. Otherwise, we'd have gone through meet-and-confer, and you don't know what's gonna go on at that point...."
The MEA argues that the private-citizen thing isn't true: "Although [Comprehensive Pension Reform] is being held out as a 'citizen's initiative,' the evidence is clear that the Mayor has spearheaded the entire CPR project from its inception" by engaging in private negotiations with ballot-measure proponents, sending out media alerts about the measure and having briefings about the measure with his staff. The complaint quotes from a Jan. 11, 2011, email to Fox News from Sanders' spokesperson Darren Pudgil: "...the City of San Diego is a national leader in pension reform," Pudgil wrote. "We're eliminating pensions as we know them and putting in place a 401-k plan like the private sector. My boss San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders is available any time to come on the [O'Reilly] Factor and talk about what he's doing here in San Diego."
Likewise, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith has said he's supporting CPR not as City Attorney but as a private citizen—a position we took issue with in a December editorial. As the MEA letter states, "Notably, it is the City Attorney's office which has responded on [the] City's behalf in rejecting MEA's demands for meet and confer...."
If PERB decides that the MEA's charge is valid, it'll trigger an informal hearing between the city and the labor union. If that doesn't result in a settlement, the complaint will move to formal hearing.