Menlo Park pension reform wins court battle | May 16, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - May 16, 2012

Menlo Park pension reform wins court battle

by Sandy Brundage

So far the court doesn't see a problem with pension reform initiative Measure L, according to a ruling issued on May 4.

Two unions had filed a lawsuit in San Mateo County Superior Court after Measure L passed with 72 percent of the vote in 2010.

The initiative raised the minimum retirement age for new public employees, excluding police officers, by five years to 60, and also decreased their maximum pension benefits to 2 percent of their highest annual salary averaged over three years. Finally, Measure L took benefit increases out of the hands of the City Council — all increases now require a simple majority vote by the public, a key issue at the heart of the lawsuit.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) argued that not allowing the City Council to increase benefits would prevent the city from being able to negotiate in good faith.

In Monday's ruling, the court concluded that the unions haven't demonstrated that any wrongful action or damage has occurred because of Measure L. Pointing to recent AFSCME negotiations with Menlo Park as an example, the ruling stated that "the undisputed evidence before this court is that successful negotiations can take place with Measure L in place."

Even if violations happened "someday," the court said, regulations already in place would remedy the situation.

Union representatives issued a joint statement on the court's decision:

"We are disappointed in the ruling because Measure L was an unnecessary measure that wasted taxpayers money. SEIU and AFSCME stand by our opinion that workers rights that are protected by the state Constitution shouldn't be subject to the whims of political currents," the statement said.

"The fact is that it was through the proper bargaining process that allowed the City of Menlo Park and its workers to recently agree on a fair contract for all parties. Contract negotiations should be done at the table; in the end it's less costly and produces better results."

Henry Riggs, who helped lead the pension reform initiative to success at the ballot box, said he expects an appeal. "We have the right (and responsibility) to limit long-term debt that our children and grandchildren will bear," he commented in an email about the "take away" message of the ruling. "'Business as usual' doesn't have to be."