SAN JOSE -- A state agency that oversees government employee rights has issued four complaints against San Jose over negotiations with its unions on a pension reform measure that voters approved in June, further frustrating the city's attempts to implement its provisions.
The action by the California Public Employment Relations Board, or PERB, means that the agency's lawyers who reviewed unfair-practice charges by city unions found they deserve a hearing before an administrative law judge.
Union representatives hailed the PERB complaints at a Tuesday news conference as affirmation of their charge that city officials engaged in sham negotiations over the pension reforms that became Measure B.
"All along, we have in fact been at the table to find legal, viable solutions," said Yolanda Cruz, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 101, the city's largest employee union. "The city refused and instead moved forward with their own proposals."
Mayor Chuck Reed dismissed the matter as a mere speed bump on a litigation road that he believes will end in upholding the pension reforms he championed. Nearly 70 percent of San Jose voters approved the measure.
"What PERB thinks about what happened is irrelevant," Reed said. "The voters have already spoken."
PERB is one of two venues where unions have challenged the city pension measure. They also have lawsuits pending in Santa Clara County Superior Court. A hearing on a union request for an injunction is scheduled later this week, and a trial date is set for June 17.
PERB staff lawyers filed the complaints on behalf of Cruz's union and three others: the San Jose Firefighters Local 230; the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21; and the Operating Engineers Local 3. The city must file an answer within 20 days. A settlement conference will be scheduled, and failing an agreement, the complaints will be heard by an administrative law judge. The judge's proposed decision can be appealed to the agency's board in Sacramento. The losing party can then seek judicial review by the state appellate court.
Government employee unions have found PERB a choice battleground for their efforts to block voter-approved pension reforms. The same day San Jose voters approved Measure B, San Diego voters approved a plan that puts new city hires except for police recruits on 401(k)-style retirement savings plans instead of traditional taxpayer-guaranteed pensions and freezes pay on which employee pensions are based for five years.
But a PERB administrative law judge last month ruled that San Diego failed to negotiate in good faith with the city's unions and required the city to rescind Prop. B. City officials have appealed.
San Jose spent months in negotiations with its 11 employee unions over Reed's retirement reform measure. The city modified its proposed measure repeatedly before putting it on the ballot, adding an optional reduced pension plan that employees could choose to avoid the higher costs of their current plan, reducing proposed increases in employee pension contributions and dropping a number of provisions unions opposed.
"We met endlessly, hundreds of hours," Reed said. "We just never reached an agreement."
Unions charged that city officials misled them in negotiations by citing a worst-case figure of $650 million for how high the city's yearly pension bill could reach that they said was unsubstantiated, and argued that, had the city considered their alternative proposals, the city would be reaping retirement savings now rather than fighting them in court.
"Measure B was a giant lie!" said Christopher Platten, a lawyer who represents two of the unions, including the firefighters.
City officials countered that the $650 million figure -- an off-the-cuff estimate by the former retirement director when asked during a council meeting what the worst-case cost increase could be -- was never the basis for pension reform talks.
City officials also questioned the purported savings in the union pension proposals, which they said largely affected only new hires and would allow some current workers to switch to a costly state pension plan better than what they have now with the city.
Contact John Woolfolk at 408-975-9346. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/johnwoolfolk1.