SAN JOSE -- San Jose police opened contract talks with the city by seeking pay increases totaling 16 percent over the next three years, raises that would include restoring 10-percent pay cuts this year that the officers had accepted to limit layoffs amid record budget deficits, plus 3 percent raises in 2014 and 2015.
The officers' opening salvo comes amid heightened concern about rising crime and a shrinking police force whose ranks have been thinned by a combination of layoffs, retirements and resignations. City leaders have said they would support modest raises. But the San Jose Police Officers' Association has argued that bigger raises are needed to keep officers from leaving for other departments offering richer pay and benefits. The union also called for opening negotiations to the public, something few city leaders have supported on grounds it could hinder talks.
"With councilmembers floating trial balloons, disguised as proposals, the POA wanted our members to know what we believe is necessary to stem the exodus of officers from San Jose to other jurisdictions," said police union President Jim Unland. "We hope the city will join us and open negotiations to the public so that light will shine on a process that is now broken and in need of repair."
Councilmen Pete Constant and Sam Liccardo last month proposed that the city consider one-time bonus payments to keep officers from leaving the force.
And Mayor Chuck Reed in the fall
"We don't have the money," Reed said. "I wish we did. I think we'll be able to restore some of the cuts, but very modest amounts."
Reed said the union indicated it expects its contract to be decided in arbitration. But the mayor said the voter-approved arbitration limits he sought in 2010 require the arbitrator to consider any raise's impact on the city's budget and other programs.
The contract talks come as the city battles the Police Officers' Association and other unions in court over pension reforms voters approved in June. Reed argued his Measure B pension reforms would deliver substantial savings to a city that has seen its employee retirement bill balloon from $73 million to $245 million in a decade due to benefit increases, investment losses and flawed assumptions.
That growing retirement bill was a key driver in record budget deficits that led the city to lay off 66 officers in 2011 even as the police union agreed to the 10-percent cuts.
The officers and other city employee unions say the Measure B pension cuts are illegal and that the city should have accepted their retirement concessions, which Reed and other city leaders had deemed insufficient.
In an update on litigation over the pension measure Tuesday, City Attorney Rick Doyle said the city faces a half-dozen lawsuits from city unions and retirees, most of which are expected to be decided together in Santa Clara County Superior Court some time in the spring. There also are an additional seven challenges to the measure before the Public Employee Relations Board.
Both sides were in court last week arguing over the scope of what could be litigated. In a ruling this week, Judge Peter Kirwan sided with the city on a few matters and the unions on others. Doyle said the unions also have just filed court papers to block Measure B implementation.
The ongoing legal battle drew sharp arguments from council members who remain bitterly divided over the pension reforms. Councilman Ash Kalra said the city has started a "war" with its employee unions that will only enrich the private law firms the city has hired to defend the pension cuts in an uphill legal battle. Councilman Kansen Chu noted the city already has spent close to $1 million defending Measure B and about $300,000 fighting related claims before the Public Employee Relations Board.
But Reed said the most controversial provision of his pension reforms -- making employees pay up to 16 percent more toward their underfunded retirement plans -- would save the city $70 million a year if upheld in court. Elimination of "bonus" pension checks would save $17 million a year.
"We're leading the effort to find a fiscally sustainable way to reform retirement," Liccardo said. "It's a cost we should pay and I think will benefit our residents."
Contact John Woolfolk at 408-975-9346. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/johnwoolfolk1.