San Jose’s Acrimonious Pension Battle: Coming to an End, or Getting Dragged On by Billionaires?

By Jennifer Li

Anti-union former Councilmember Pete Constant and California’s version of the Koch Brothers, Charles Munger Jr., are at it again.

Charles Munger Jr., son of billionaire Charles Munger Sr., has spent upwards of $78 million of his father’s money on California campaigns. He was, and continues to be, the monetary force behind San Jose’s unlawful Measure B, a ballot initiative that slashed City workers’ retirement benefits. Instead of fully bargaining with its unions over the pension and retiree healthcare cuts, former Mayor Chuck Reed and former Councilmember Pete Constant went around the workers and pushed their drastic pension-gutting measure on the ballot four years ago. After misleading San Jose voters by publishing false pension projections, the anti-worker trio got Measure B to pass in June 2012.

Since Measure B has passed, the City of San Jose has been hemorrhaging public workers. The San Jose police force alone saw 265 officers resign and 167 retire since the Measure B vote, according to Capital and Main.

“Morale was really low,” former city engineer John Mukhar recalled about the atmosphere after Measure B passed. “And combined with the salary cuts that all of the employees took, we saw a major exodus of experienced talent — senior engineers, associate engineers, with a lot of years of experience were leaving. People that we never thought would leave.”

IFPTE Local 21 members and retirees have maintained all along that Measure B is unconstitutional, unlawful and a breach of vested contractual rights.

Local 21 and labor coalition partners fought hard against Measure B, and after years of hard work and costly litigation, the coalition and City had successfully reached an agreement on language for an Alternative Pension Reform Settlement Frameworkin November 2015. New Mayor Sam Liccardo, who initially backed Measure B as a councilman, worked with the labor coalition to reach the compromise. Properly carried out, the Settlement Framework would have enabled the City to provide a more competitive retirement benefit to new hires and begin to save the City an estimated $3 billion dollars over the next 30 years.

Unfortunately, Pete Constant and his one-percenter friend Charles Munger, Jr. were not done sticking their grubby hands in the retirement plans of the hard-working men and women of San Jose. They have filed numerous lawsuits to derail the Settlement Framework.

While workers have been banding together to fight off attacks on their hard-earned pensions, Pete Constant and Charles Munger Jr. were busy writing fat checks for expensive lawyers to squash the voice of working families and retirees.

“The reality is this legal maneuver is being done by a couple folks who don’t live in San Jose, don’t count on emergency services for 9-1-1 calls and don’t pay taxes, ”said Mayor Sam Liccardo.

Their lawsuits temporarily stopped the City from repealing Measure B. Despite this well-funded roadblock, Local 21 and the labor coalition partners refuse to allow third party billionaires to steamroll over worker pensions. We will continue the fight to save workers’ pensions by rallying behind the newly proposed Alternative Pension Reform Act, known as Measure F. It would nullify Measure B and allow the Settlement Framework terms to take effect.

If San Jose voters vote yes on Measure F this November, Measure B will be dead for good and the acrimonious San Jose pension battle can finally come to an end. If Measure F is voted down, Measure B survives and billionaires will see it as an invitation to continue to erode workers’ vested rights. After introducing Measure B, Chuck Reed has expanded his horizons beyond San Jose and pursued floundering statewide measures to reduce pension benefits for California’s public employees.

We need to secure a successful vote on Measure F in November for fair and equitable pension reform.