California Supreme Court rejects pension reform

The California Supreme Court on Thursday reversed [opinion, pdf] a lower court’s decision to uphold Proposition B, a San Diego pension reform initiative. The initiative was first placed on the ballot in 2010 by former Mayor Jerry Sanders [profile] after then-Councilman Carl DeMaio [website] suggested that 401(k)-style retirement plans take the place of traditional pensions for future city employees.

Mayor Sanders bypassed union representatives’ demands to meet and confer over the measure and, instead, chose to pursue pension reform through a citizens’ initiative. In 2015, a large public sector union filed [KPBS] unfair practice claims against the City of San Diego. The Public Employment Relations Board ruled in their favor, stating that Sanders’ failure to confer with unions was an unfair labor practice.

Last year, the Court of Appeals rejected [opinion, pdf] the board’s ruling because citizen-sponsored initiatives do not have meet-and-confer requirements.

Judge Carol Corrigan, writing on behalf of the California Supreme Court, disagreed:

The meet-and-confer requirement of section 3505 is an important feature of state public employee labor relations law, and one that places a relatively “minimal” burden on a local agency’s governing functions. Future, the [Meyers-Milias-Brown Act] aims to foster full communication between public employers and employees and improve employer-employee relations. These purposes require compliance with section 3505, even when an agency decides to take a proposal directly to the voters.

The Court ordered the appellate judges to come up with a resolution for the city’s violation of the meet-and-confer requirements.

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