State Supreme Court Derails Pension-Slashing San Diego Proposition

San Diego City Firefighters Local 145 and the city’s other public sector unions have won an important victory in the fight to preserve retirement security. 

The California State Supreme Court ruled unanimously that former San Diego Mayor, Jerry Sanders, violated the law when he used the power and resources of his office to lead the effort on Proposition B. (Boling et. al. v. Public Employees Relations Board

The proposition, passed in 2012, was a San Diego city measure – guised as a citizen’s initiative – that eliminated pensions for all newly hired city employees, except for police officers. Firefighters, lifeguards, librarians, sanitation workers and many other public servants no longer had retirement security. 

Sanders role as the city’s CEO — and as such the city’s chief labor negotiator — required him to meet-and-confer in good faith with local labor unions before any changes could be made to pensions. Sanders tried an “end run” around this restriction by drafting and submitting his pension attack as a “citizen’s initiative.”

The high court didn’t buy it. Justices rebuked his actions as a clear violation of public employment law, affirming the bargaining rights of public workers on wages, benefits and working conditions. The case was sent back to the court of appeals.

“We made several attempts to work collaboratively with the city on a mutually beneficial solution, but our requests went unanswered, instead they violated our right to negotiate over our retirement security.” said Jesse Conner, president of San Diego City Firefighters, Local 145.  “We had no choice but to stand up and protect our members rights. Together, with other local labor unions, we mounted a six-year legal challenge and won a battle to protect our hard-earned rights.”

It was the second time the Prop. B trick had been struck down. In 2013, Local 145 and other San Diego unions won a decision from the Public Employees Retirement Board (PERB) that the failure to meet-and-confer on Prop. B constituted unfair labor practices. The proponents subsequent lawsuit set the stage for their second defeat in the high court.

The fight isn’t over yet, Sanders’ anti-worker friends Carl DeMaio and current San Diego Mayor, Kevin Faulconer, remain confident that they’ll win the overall assault on the right of workers to retire with dignity.  DeMaio has vowed to vigorously fight any attempt by the lower court that dismantles Prop. B. There is no doubt that DeMaio and his coalition will continue to run city measures and statewide ballot propositions that threaten the retirement security of countless firefighters and other public servants. 

“Some self-serving politicians will still attack pensions in our city and what happened here can happen anywhere,” said Conner. “The only way we win, is when we get involved and stay united. Though many of us prefer to stay out of politics, the attacks we face to our future are political. We have to work on educating elected officials and support those who support our issues.”