SD Rostra

‘Operation Intimidation’ Aims to Sink Comprehensive Pension Reform

Union Campaign Built On Intimidation, Desperation, Lies


There are few certainties in politics, but pension reform is quickly becoming one of those rare slam dunks.

In the City of San Diego, 70 percent of voters said they would vote for the Comprehensive Pension Reform (CPR) ballot measure, according to a poll conducted by Competitive Edge Research & Communication. Twenty percent said, “No” and 10 percent were unsure.  Those eye-popping numbers, along with the pension reform tsunami rolling across country, mean CPR is about as close as you can get to a lock in politics.

The unions know this and have responded with a plan I like to call, “Operation Intimidation.”

Here is how this pedestrian plan works: Unions regularly deploy blockers – mostly hired guns and other union sympathizers – to the front of Vons, Ralphs, Target, Home Depot and other places where signature collectors are working to get registered voters to sign petitions.

Union blockers also are trying to sabotage the Fair and Open Contracting measure, which would ask voters to eliminate mandated Project Labor Agreements in the City of San Diego.

The goal of Operation Intimidation is simple: Create a messy and uncomfortable environment in front of stores – including circling petitioners. If done correctly, most shoppers won’t stop to sign the petition and CPR would fail to qualify for the June 2012 ballot.

The unions, not surprisingly, argue they are at the stores to educate voters. They claim petitioners are misleading people by saying firefighters are exempt from the measure. Under the measure, police recruits would be the only new hires to receive a pension.

The Competitive Edge poll shows more San Diegans actually would vote for a measure that included all employees – including police and fire. The tally: 72.3 percent Yes, 17.5 No, 10.3 Unsure.

So there is no value for the campaign to say firefighters are not included. Still, union leaders have accused me and others on the campaign of encouraging signature collectors to lie.

Do they really believe this, or are they desperate to weave a narrative that cuts into the campaign’s credibility?

The petition companies the campaign hired have done their best to explain CPR to the petitioners, who travel from city to city throughout the state and country, depending on where the work is. It also is worth noting that anyone can circulate a petition anywhere.

The petition spells out and summarizes the entire measure. The campaign recently told the companies to remind petitioners that firefighters are not exempt from CPR.

The unions are pointing at a handful of signature collectors and calling them liars. This overlooks the fact that the entire union campaign is built on lies.

Lorena Gonzalez, the secretary-treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, recently authored a letter urging people not to sign the CPR petition because it would leave city employees, including police officers, “without any guaranteed retirement benefits.” This is completely untrue.

Actually, the measure says, the maximum pension “payable to a sworn police officer, who is hired after the effective date of this section…shall be an amount equivalent to 80%…of the participant’s highest consecutive 36 months of Base Compensation.”

More importantly, the measure says: “This Plan shall meet the legal requirements established under the United States Internal Revenue Code in order to allow the City to retain its Social Security Safe Harbor Status, under the Internal Revenue Code.

“The City shall not contribute in excess of 9.2% of an employee’s compensation, as required by the Internal Revenue Code as amended, to defined contribution retirement accounts for that individual employee. For a Uniformed Public Safety Officer (firefighters and lifeguards), the City may contribute up to 11% of that Officer’s compensation to his or her defined contribution retirement account.

“The City may elect to re-enroll in the Social Security System (a benefit that equals 6.2 percent of compensation), provided that the City’s total cost for retirement benefits do not exceed 9.2% for each Officer’s or employee’s compensation, or 11% for Uniformed Public Safety Officers.”

CPR’s financial analysis, which shows the measure would save taxpayers up to $2.1 billion over 27 years,  assumes the City would fully fund employee retirement accounts (9.2 percent and 11 percent) if voters approve the measure.

In this clip, Ms. Gonzalez says the measure attacks social security, a benefit the City opted out of years ago. She also claims CPR is illegal. She repeats her claims in a news release stacked with misinformation.

Ms. Gonzalez says the measure would freeze pay for 5 years and is therefore illegal because it would not allow for collective bargaining. The truth is, the comprehensive measure would freeze pensionable pay and allow for annual negotiations.

Employees could continue to receive bonuses during the 5-year pensionable pay freeze. Those bonuses simply would not be lumped in with base compensation when calculating pensions.

A pool of skilled lawyers helped draft the pension reform ballot measure and agree that it is legally sound.

The unions, led by Ms. Gonzalez, have shown us early and often they are going to say and do whatever they can to keep this measure off the June 2012 ballot. Strong-arm union tactics, unfortunately, are not new.

Please remember that when you see a union blocker outside a store. Or when you hear Ms. Gonzalez and her supporters saying Mayor Jerry Sanders, council members Carl DeMaio and Kevin Faulconer, The Lincoln Club of San Diego County and The San Diego County Taxpayers Association all got it wrong.

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