Governor Brown’s 12 point pension reform plan that was released today outlines big changes to current and future public employees, including California state employees as well as employees of local governments, schools and special districts. The Governor’s plan, while probably outraging institutional Unions, probably does not go far enough for conservatives and conservative activist groups. The Governor’s pension reform plan cannot be implemented, in most cases, without bargaining with the employees and employee organizations it affects. One thing is for sure though, the employee associations better bring it’s “A” game to the bargaining table to discuss the Governor’s plan. With the right approach, many of the employer needs outlined in the pension reform plan can be accommodated while preserving the fundamental elements of California public employee pensions. The California public employee pension system has been the cornerstone of public service for over 2 generations. That system, which has supported probably the finest public sector workforce in the country, needs to be preserved the common sense way.
The Sacramento Bee recently reported that a group, looking to abolish collective bargaining rights for all of California’s public sector employees, filed three ballot initiatives this week. The group is called the California Center for Public Policy and arrears to be led by a UC Santa Barbara economic lecturer named Lanny Ebenstein. Mr. Ebenstein’s group has started fundraising to begin a signature campaign to get the initiatives before the voters.
The three initiatives are focused on both public sector employees and retirees. The first measure would ban recognition of all public sector labor unions to prevent government from collectively bargaining with them. The second measure would impose a higher tax burden on pensions paid through CalPERS or CalSTERS for retirees who earn an annual pension of over $100,000.00 per year. The Third measure would raise the retirement age of state employees to 65 and, and public safety workers to age 58.
The most troubling aspect of the news was the initial reaction from representatives of public employee groups. Steve Maviglio, of a group called Californian’s for Retirement Security, responded by saying “these will end up in the same trash bin as the proposal to require Christmas music in public schools. These proposals are wildly out of synch with California; fortunately there is a $15 million dollar gap between dumb ideas and the ballot box.”
Let’s hope Mr. Maviglio’s comments are not shared by a majority of public sector employee organizations throughout the State. Californians and members of public sector employee organizations should take these measures very seriously. Many voters, especially those who work in the private sector would view positively some, if not all of the element s of the measures. Union recalcitrants, inflexibility and lack of creativity is exactly the posture that lead to the abolition of collective bargaining in other states, including Wisconsin. The public sector employee union can no longer used tried and true methods like strikes, picketing, or PR smear campaigns to meet their objectives. The world out there is much more complicated now and requires an entirely different and smarter approach. The public sector employee unions need to position themselves as partners with a solution and regain the trust and respect of the citizens of California. Mr. Ebenstein is quoted in the Sac BEE article by saying, “[g]overnment does not exist to provide compensation and pensions for government workers. Government exists to provide good public services at a reasonable cost.” A vast, vast majority of California voters would agree with this statement. Unions need to incorporate this message in their strategy and convince the public that the good public service Ebenstein references depends upon hiring and keeping skilled and motivated government workers. Remember, the California private sector employees out number public employees over 25 to 1 at the ballot box. California’s public sector employee organizations would be wise to take seriously the three initiatives filed by Mr. Ebenstien and similar ones that have already been filed or will be filed in the coming months.
If you would like more information from us, regarding how you can craft a message of cooperation and partnership, please contact Jennifer at the Firm.