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Union leaders share political outlook on ballot initiatives

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The city could lose $158 million if voters approve Proposition A, and a decision on Proposition B will ultimately be decided in court, according to two prominent union leaders.

At the monthly A Better San Diego forum, the leaders told union rank and file what’s being done to oppose the two ballot measures and provided a frank assessment of their political futures.

Tom Lemmon, business manager of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council AFL-CIO, spoke against Proposition A, the ordinance that would prohibit requiring the use of project labor agreements on city construction projects.

Michael Zucchet, general manager of the San Diego Municipal Employees Association, spoke against Proposition B, which would enter most new city hires into a 401(k)-like retirement program while potentially instituting a five-year pensionable pay freeze on city employees.

Prodded by Lorena Gonzalez, secretary-treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, Lemmon said the city risks losing $158 million annually, based on last year’s budget, if Proposition A wins voter approval.

Based on SB 922, construction grants can be withheld from any city that institutes a PLA ban. The bill also says PLAs cannot discriminate against non-union workers, and that non-union workers receive the prevailing union wage on union projects assuming they meet specified work conditions.

“We’re going to pass something that’s unnecessary and unjust and lose our tax dollars,” Gonzalez said. “We’re going to make a statement and lose $158 million.”

Gonzalez and Lemmon said unions need to inform voters about the potential loss of state funds if Proposition A is passed.

Opposition to Proposition B, on the other hand, is likely to come down to a legal fight, according to Zucchet.

“From a political standpoint, it’s pretty likely this is going to pass,” he said. “By which I mean, we’re (expletive deleted).”

He said lawyers did a poor job writing the legislation, however, leaving opponents an avenue for legal challenge in the likely event that voters approve it in two months.

“The legal front is our best approach from a union standpoint,” Zucchet said.

One of the legal issues, Zucchet said, is the basis of the complaint filed earlier this year by the state’s Public Employment Relations Board on behalf of the Municipal Employees Association. It alleges that Mayor Jerry Sanders and Councilman Carl DeMaio pushed the initiative explicitly to obviate the legal requirement to negotiate with labor over changes to the city pension system.

On March 29, a Superior Court judge delayed a hearing on the legal legitimacy of Proposition B until after the June 5 public vote.

Zucchet said Sanders gave unions a “nice gift” when, in an interview with CityBeat, he said the reason behind reforming pension through a ballot initiative is to bypass the city’s meet-and-confer obligation.

The other legal challenge unions will levy is to the legitimacy of the potential salary freeze contained in Proposition B.

When there were two competing initiatives to address pension reform, Sanders and Councilman Kevin Faulconer acknowledged that the city couldn’t impose a salary freeze through referendum, Zucchet said, and their solution was to impose a not-quite salary freeze.

The initiative sets the council’s starting negotiating position with employees as a five-year freeze. That negotiating position can be overturned by a council supermajority.

“We believe it is still illegal,” Zucchet said.

Despite Zucchet’s emphasis on a future legal challenge to the initiative, Gonzalez said union members should still focus on defeating the bill in June.

Even in defeat, a 60-40 loss would be significantly different from a 70-30 loss, she said.

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2 UserComments
Kristin Wright 4:24pm April 23, 2012

The problem with Lemmons selfserving speach is that NON UNION shops MUST pay into the benefit packages set by the unions and the workers DO NOT receive the benefit...Workers work and union TAKES...It is illegal to descriminate as MR. Lemmon has done. Even if we pay our workers Health Insurance we still have to pay the union...None of this is legal...If people saw the whole picture they would not and should not approve. This is a ploy to get people to join. You also have to have one union worker per your one worker...Meaning the others in your shop can't work on the job...In his words this is a done deal so get use to it.

Omar Passons 8:09am April 21, 2012

Thanks for including a link to SB 922. Section 2502 seems pretty clear on the state funding issue. Links to the ballot language for Props A and B would be similarly useful for future articles on the topic. I'm also curious about the scope of PLAs generally. They are often written about in a monolithic way, but there is a pretty big range in the terms that might be included, isn't there? Still, nice, informative article, thanks.