“A Whole Lot of Crazy”: San Jose City Council Moves Forward With Pension Ballot Measure

After more than 2 hours of angry public testimony and a contentious debate among council members, the San Jose City Council voted 8 to 3 to go forward with an illegal ballot measure on pension reform in the June 5 Primary Election.

Council members essentially ignored the pleas of dozens of city workers, community leaders and other San Jose residents to allow further negotiations with city workers and a state audit to establish clear future pension obligations, before bringing the issue to voters. The ballot measure would effectively kill collective bargaining rights for city workers.

Yolanda Cruz, President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 101 (AFSCME), a union that represents the majority of San Jose city employees:

I and my union have been scapegoated as unwilling participants in addressing pension issues. It’s unfair and unwarranted.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee will address a request today made by a coalition of Bay Area lawmakers to examine San Jose’s finances and future pension obligations. Mayor Reed has repeatedly used inflated figures to characterize the city’s liability.

Describing the political climate of how Mayor Reed and his council allies have dealt with the pension issue, San Jose resident Clark Williams said

I think what we’ve seen here yet again is acrimony in our city. There’s a whole lot of crazy going on in San Jose.

Mayor Chuck Reed told the packed chambers

We have to bring down pension costs so we can pay people what they’ve earned. Of course we could have just cut jobs, or laid more people off.

Firefighters and police weighed in on the issue as well, arguing that the city council is simply dismissing the rights of city employees to be treated with dignity and fairness. Said Jim Unland, President of the San Jose Police Officers Association.

Mayor Reed, your employees despise you. That’s your legacy.

Key provisions of the pension ballot measure include giving current employees the choice of either paying up to 16 percent more toward their current retirement plan or switching to a lower pension for their remaining years on the job with higher retirement ages.

Future hires would have a lower-cost retirement plan. That plan would be determined later but would have higher retirement ages and smaller maximum benefits and cost-of-living increases.

Current retirees could see the automatic 3-percent annual cost-of-living increases on their pensions suspended for up to five years if the city declares a fiscal emergency.

The majority vote included two members who had previously been supportive of delaying a public vote, Council member Nancy Pyle, who is termed out at the end of the year and Council Member Donald Rocha, who unsuccessfully tried to add several “friendly amendments” to the ballot measure language. Both cited a “responsibility to constituents” for voting to move forward with the ballot measure.

Even teachers weighed in on the issue.  Stephen McMahon, of the San Jose Teachers Association.

I’m utterly disappointed that 'union' has become a bad word. I think by going to voters with this, you’re abdicating your responsibility to the residents of San Jose.

Learn more about the campaign to fight this illegal ballot measure.