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Conservatives Launch Fight Against S.D. Pensions

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Conservatives are picking a fight with organized labor in San Diego. Local Republicans are backing a ballot measure that would weaken unions and eliminate most pensions.

— Conservatives are picking a fight with organized labor in San Diego. Local Republicans are backing a ballot measure that would weaken unions and eliminate most pensions.

Only police officers would still receive pensions under the proposed measure. All other workers, including firefighters and lifeguards would switch to a 401(k) system.

The measure also eliminates the ability of union members to block labor contracts they don’t like and it would freeze the base salaries of current employees for five years. Mayor Jerry Sanders said this could be a national model for addressing rising pension costs. He defended eliminating firefighter and lifeguard pensions.

“There are not the same recruitment and retention issues that face police,” he said. “But I made sure, along with the members of the coalition, that firefighters and lifeguards, as well as police officers, will have proper death and disability coverage.”

Sanders and Councilman Kevin Faulconer worked on a proposal that was ultimately combined with one put forward by Councilman Carl DeMaio. The conservative Lincoln Club and the San Diego County Taxpayers Association played a key role in negotiations.

The mayor’s words were little comfort to Frank De Clercq head of the firefighters union.

“Where does it stop? I mean this is an attack now on public safety. And what’s next?” the union leader asked. “Is it going to be Social Security recipients? Is it going to be our military people who risk their lives? Should those people, too, not have a pension? Should those people, too, not have health care?”

De Clercq said the measure takes advantage of workers who risk their lives to protect the city. Supporters of the issue have to collect more than 94,000 signatures within six months to qualify the measure for the June 2012 ballot.

Supporters say the measure will save more than $363 million in its first five years. But opponents say the city could actually see an increase in immediate retirement payments because new hires wouldn’t be contributing to the pension system to cover the costs of older workers. The city’s retirement system is running a $2 billion deficit.

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