Proposition B, which was intended to modify the pensions of most city of San Diego workers, has been found to be invalid by an administrative law judge with the Public Employment Relations Board. The crux of the ruling appears to be fairly simple: Under long-standing law, before changing the terms of employment, public employers must negotiate in good faith with their employees. In this case the mayor, who is the executive in charge of the city under the strong mayor form of government, as well as various other city officials such as the city attorney, did not make any attempt to negotiate, but rather backed end-run-around negotiations in the form of a city initiative.

Whether the administrative law judge’s ruling is upheld remains to be seen. It may apparently be appealed to PERB, then to an appellate court and ultimately to the state Supreme Court. But should the city appeal the ruling or should the city cut its losses? In a worst-case scenario, if the entire appeals process plays out over many years and the city loses, presumably all of the employees denied a pension during the intervening period will have to be made whole. The costs could be quite substantial.

Although these employees will have benefitted by contributions to a 401(k) and perhaps to Social Security during the time they were denied pension benefits, it seems unlikely that they could be forced to give up those benefits retroactively. In that case, the city could be required to pay 100 percent of back pension benefits, in addition to whatever other benefits were already paid. And then there are the legal costs. Is that a financial risk of taxpayer dollars worth taking?

B. Chris Brewster lives in Pacific Beach.

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