Statement: “The biggest union that takes the most benefits is endorsing (Kevin Faulconer) and now he’s claiming that I have all of the support. That’s just nonsense. It’s not true,” mayoral candidate David Alvarez said during a Jan. 15 debate.

Determination: Misleading

Analysis: Mayoral candidate Kevin Faulconer play ups David Alvarez’s union ties almost as often as he touts his own credentials. Last week, Alvarez fired back.

Faulconer’s received union endorsements too, Alvarez said, including the city’s largest employee group, which also receives the greatest chunk of city benefits.

Indeed, Faulconer won a coveted endorsement from the San Diego Police Officers Association last week. But that group isn’t the largest city employee union.

The city’s white-collar union, the Municipal Employees Association, is actually the biggest.

Here’s a look at the city’s full-time budgeted positions, broken down by the union those workers are eligible to join.

These numbers are a bit inflated. Each year, the city pencils in cash for some job openings it never fills, in some cases to save money throughout the year.  For example, the Police Department budget appears to include funding for 1,972 officers but staffing has long hovered closer to 1,800.

Jeff Jordon, vice president of the police union, estimates about 1,830 of the city’s police officers belong to the officers’ association.

The city’s white-collar union is much larger. Michael Zucchet, the group’s general manager, said about 4,000 of the city’s full-time workers are part of the Municipal Employees Association.

Roughly 1,000 hourly or part-time workers are also members, Zucchet said.

Zucchet said the MEA endorsed Alvarez shortly after the Nov. 19 primary, and the city’s unions for lifeguards and firefighters have also endorsed Alvarez.

(For a full list of mayoral endorsements, check out our handy database.)

Of the city’s union members, police do receive the most extensive benefits. Rookie officers are the only new city employees who can enroll in the city’s pension system after reforms approved by voters in June 2012 and the City Council recently approved an increase to officers’ uniform and equipment allowances.

The five-year labor agreements approved last spring also lay out a 7 percent compensation hike for police officers over the duration of the deal, more than the 5.25 percent increase most employee groups are set to receive in the first three years of their contracts with the city.

An Alvarez spokesman said the mayoral candidate was focused on those city benefits, particularly new officers’ pensions, when he made the claim. He didn’t mean to suggest the city’s largest union had endorsed Faulconer, Alvarez spokesman Stephen Heverly said.

“Judging by the amount of benefits the Police Officers Association takes, it is the biggest union receiving the most benefits,” Heverly said.

But Alvarez didn’t make that distinction at the debate. His statement makes it sound as if the union that endorsed Faulconer is the largest and takes the most benefits. Only the latter part of that statement is true.

A misleading statement takes an element of truth and badly distorts or exaggerates it, leaving a deceptive impression. That ruling fits here.

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

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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