Statement: City law already requires a two-thirds vote by the City Council to approve negotiated pay increases, opponents of Proposition B wrote in their ballot argument.

Determination: Barely True

Analysis: Proposition B is the high-profile pension reform initiative slated for San Diego’s June election. It aims to freeze employee pay for the next five years and replace pensions with 401(k)s for most new city workers.

A city analysis estimates the initiative would save roughly $1 billion over the next three decades but only if its proposed reforms are fully implemented. Most savings come from a pay freeze the City Council would have to approve separately.

State law prohibits the initiative from guaranteeing the pay freeze. So the initiative only provides direction for labor negotiations and aims to make it harder for the City Council to approve future pay hikes.

While most issues before the council require a majority vote, the initiative would require a two-thirds vote for pay boosts in the next five years. This extra hurdle would be the only policy change ensuring the roughly $1 billion in savings.

However, in a ballot argument that will be mailed to every registered voter, opponents say the extra hurdle is a myth. They say city voting requirements already require a two-thirds vote for pay increases. They write (emphasis added):

All projected savings from Proposition B are from a pay freeze that may not occur because pay increases are allowed with a two-thirds City Council vote, which the Charter already requires for negotiated pay increases.

The opposition’s ballot argument is signed by Frank De Clercq and Ed Harris, the heads of the local firefighter and lifeguard unions, as well as Mary Enyeart, an emergency dispatcher, and the presidents of organizations representing retired and middle-class workers.

We decided to Fact Check the statement because if true, it would undermine a major argument by proponents about the initiative’s impact. Without an extra hurdle, the council could approve a pay increase just as easily as today.

But opponents didn’t tell the whole story. Under current city voting requirements, the council can approve one-year pay hikes with a simple majority. Anything longer requires a two-thirds vote.

The initiative would eliminate the council’s ability to approve one-year pay increases with a simple majority.

Steven Kreisberg works for a national labor organization that represents blue-collar workers and helped write the ballot materials opposing Proposition B. He said the ballot argument only referred to multi-year deals because unions seek them more often.

Kreisberg said unions push for multi-year deals instead of single-year deals because negotiations take a lot of time and workers like the stability. Most contracts extend for three or four years, he said.

Kreisberg said opponents knew about the different voting requirements for single-year deals but didn’t reflect them in the ballot materials because county election officials limit arguments to 300 words each. He argued the initiative doesn’t add much of an extra hurdle since a two-thirds vote is already required for more common multi-year deals.

Our definition for Barely True says the statement contains an element of truth but critical context is absent that may significantly alter the impression the statement leaves.

In this case, opponents accurately described how many votes are required for some pay increases but not all. Without the additional context about single-year deals, prospective voters might think the initiative wouldn’t create a higher hurdle for pay increases. But it would. Under the initiative, a two-thirds vote would be required for any negotiated pay increase, a change from today.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He writes about local government, creates infographics and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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