San Francisco retirement plans duel for votes

By Brian Rinker

The Guardsman

The reform of city employee pensions is a hot button issue for the upcoming election with battling propositions on the ballot. Proposition C, crafted by local unions and interim Mayor Ed Lee, was approved unanimously by the Board of Supervisors. Proposition D was written by public defender and mayoral candidate Jeff Adachi.

Both propositions promise to save the city a billion dollars over the next ten years by requiring city workers to pay more into their pensions while the city pays less.  Prop C adjusts city workers’ contribution rates based on the health of the economy, while Prop D just increases contribution rates.

Adachi is using Prop D to spearhead his mayoral campaign. He says that the city is in a budget crisis and city employees’ pensions are costing more than the city can afford. His plan claims to be able to save the city $400 million more than Prop C would.

Both measures also attempt to end “pension spiking,” in which workers are promoted to higher pay grades just before they retire in order to bump up their pensions payouts. Prop C requires workers to be at a particular pay grade for at least three years before being eligible for higher payouts while Prop D requires five years.

Many favor Prop C because of the inclusive process by which it was crafted.  Prop D however was crafted mostly by Adachi and is backed by rich Republicans Michael Moritz and George Hume, who have financially backed other attacks on public sector workers across the nation, including Wisconsin’s fight to strip collective bargaining rights from teachers. Hume and Moritz have contributed over $450,000 to the Prop D campaign.

“Adachi jumped on the anti-union band wagon and hooked up with a couple of billionaires,” said Bill Shields, chair of labor and community studies at City College.

Shields and many others agree that Adachi is a great public defender and at one time he was considered quite liberal, but for an unknown reason he jumped ship.

“He’s tilted way to the right,” Shields said and stressed that if Prop D passes unions will be on the warpath.  Many opponents of Prop D consider the measure illegal and if it does pass there could be a legal battle.

Prop D is part of the Republican attack on public sector rights, said Shields. The unions support Prop C because they helped craft it, but also because if they don’t, Prop D or something similar could pass and threaten public sector rights to an even greater degree.

“We’d rather have a negotiated sacrifice rather than an imposed sacrifice,” said Shields.

“We understand the incredible shortfall in the city budget,” said Alisa Messer, president of the City College chapter of American Federation of Teachers, Local 2121. “But at the same time, we know it’s not the public workers fault the economy crashed. We should be able to retire with some security.”

Shields and Messer both agree that taxing the working class will not save the economy. What would help is if corporations were held accountable for their actions and forced pay their fair share of taxes.

Prop C also includes healthcare reform, which when combined with pension reform could save the city more money than Adachi’s plan. City College’s classified staff, who are part of the city’s civil service system, would be affected by by both pension reform and healthcare reform. Their union, Service Employees International Union Local 1021, supports Prop C. Classified staff at the college include all support personnel, from custodians to police officers to office workers to counselors.

College faculty however are not part of the city’s pension system, though they would be affected by healthcare reform. Nevertheless they have not taken position for or against Prop C.

Both propositions require 50 percent voter approval plus one vote to pass. If both should pass, the proposition with the most votes would be approved.

For a more detailed account of the measures check out the voter’s guide or visit: http://www.smartvoter.org/2011/11/08/ca/sf/ballot.html#LocalPropositions

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