San Jose’s Pension Battle Finally Ends in a Victory for Us

After six years of political posturing, legal maneuvers, and settlement talks, San Jose’s catastrophic pension reform battle is finally over. For a quick and dirty overview on the contentious six-year battle, read here.

All 11 employee groups – including Local 21’s AEA, AMSP and CAMP chapters – came to terms this September on legal, negotiated terms.  Even with a competitive pension for newer hires, there is still the difficult task of improving employee compensation, recruiting and retaining highly skilled employees, and restoring City services.

“We’re looking forward to rebuilding the City.  Not just restoring City services, but patching relationships between workers and the City Council,” said Alan Wiley, Information Systems Analyst at San Jose and former CAMP Treasurer.  “Hopefully after so many years of early retirements and brain drain, San Jose will become an employer of choice again.”

The new pension reform settlement framework does the following:

  • creates a competitive Tier 2 pension benefit for newer hires

  • responsibly protects Tier 1 retiree healthcare benefits while lowering the cost to employees

  • provides a sensible retiree healthcare alternative for Tier 2 employees who had been paying for a benefit they would not receive

  • allows Tier 1 Members to opt-in to a lower-cost, lower-benefited retiree healthcare account

  • compromises on a retirement age of 62 for newer hires

“Now that this has been settled, Tier 2 members like myself and my coworkers can continue to fight for improvements moving forward.  We’re not just fighting to maintain the status quo,” said Tala Fatolahzadeh, Associate Landscape Architect and AEA Sergeant-at-Arms.

We owe this victory to all the employee groups and our unions standing together and combining our resources to beat back the anti-labor attack. We appreciate the painstaking work of our current and former leaders from Local 21’s San Jose chapters: the Association of Engineers and Architects, the Association of Maintenance Supervisory Personnel and the City Association of Management Personnel.

The settlement replaces the infamous Measure B that passed in 2012.  Measure B was part of anti-union former Mayor Chuck Reed’s attempt to eliminate vested rights and gut the pension benefits of San Jose City employees. Measure B stripped away many pension protections, drastically reduced retirement benefits, increased the retirement age, and eroded employees’ access to disability retirement if they were injured on the job. The drastic cuts Measure B imposed led to high employee turnover, undermined new employee recruitment efforts, and forced severe cutbacks in community services.

Instead of fully bargaining with San Jose workers over the pension and retiree healthcare cuts, Reed went around Local 21 and other City Unions and pushed his drastic pension-gutting measure on the ballot four years ago. Unions had proposed several reforms that cut costs for the City while maintaining competitive pensions, but Reed was on a mission to weaken worker rights. Because the pension reform initiative was not properly bargained with employee groups, the unions joined together and sued.

“Without Local 21 supporting AEA, AMSP and CAMP with legal and political resources, we would not have gotten this far, or this fair of a resolution,” said Steve Pagan, recently retired Senior Civil Engineer for the City of San Jose and past AEA President.  “Measure B was an attack on public employees and public servants and an attack on the middle class.”

Throughout the fallout from Measure B, Local 21 remained committed to our fight to protect workers’ retirement, which included victories at the Superior Court level and at the state Public Employee Relations Board.