Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Court of Appeal: No Requirement to Meet and Confer on Citizen Sponsored Initiatives

In City of San Diego v. PERBan appellate court said a citizen sponsored initiative to end pensions for new government employees did not require the city of San Diego (City) to meet and confer with the unions whose members would be affected.  

In November of 2010 then Mayor of San Diego Jerry Sanders announced his plan to place a citizen sponsored initiative on the June 2012 ballot.  The initiative was called the Citizens Pension Reform Iniative (CPRI).  CPRI, if passed, would amend San Diego’s city charter.  The main effect of this amendment was eliminating the pension program for specified future employees, and replacing the program with a 401(k) plan.  

Mayor Sanders, along with many prominent city employees, spent significant time and used considerable resources to gain support for the initiative.  Eventually, enough signatures were collected to place the matter on the June 2012 ballot.  Several unions demanded to meet and confer with City Council before CPRI was placed on the ballot.  If CPRI passed Mayor Sanders would have effectively ended future pensions for city employees without any discussion with union representatives. 

City Council declined to meet with the union representatives, citing a law which requires a citizen sponsored initiative to be placed on the ballot if procedural requirements were met.  Here, the requirements were met, so CPRI was placed on the ballot and passed by the voters.

Several affected unions filed an unfair labor practice charge with PERB.  The City claimed it had no discretion to keep CPRI off the ballot.  According to the City, Mayor Sanders was acting in his capacity as a private citizen.  Since this was was not a government action, they argued, there was no requirement to meet and confer.

PERB found Mayor Sanders was acting as an agent of the City.  Essentially, the City used one of its stronger political figures to create, support, and pass a citizen sponsored initiative.  By doing so the City bypassed the MMBA’s requirement to meet and confer, and ended the pension program for most of the City's future employees.  PERB found this to be a violation of the MMBA, and ordered the City to repay employees for lost compensation, including pension benefits.  The City appealed.

On appeal one of the main argument was over a 1984 case commonly referred to as Seal BeachSeal Beach declared, before a governing body can place a charter amendment on the ballot it must satisfy the meet-and-confer obligations under the MMBA.  The unions argued Seal Beach was applicable in the present case.  In other words, 33 years of precedent said governing bodies cannot bypass unions by placing charter amendments on the ballot which will impact the terms and conditions of employment.  The Appellate Court disagreed.

First, the decision dismissed any argument that mayor Sanders was acting as an agent of the City. Concluding CPRI was neither ratified by the City, nor an action of its agent, the court next addressed whether Seal Beach applied.  

The decision said, what took place in San Diego was different from Seal Beach.  CPRI was a citizen sponsored initiative.  In Seal Beach, the city council was using its own authority to place matters on the ballot without an initiative.  Thus, CPRI was not a proposal by a governing body.  Accordingly, there was no obligation to meet and confer.

PERB's decisions are given significant deference on appeal.  Their factual findings are considered final if there is any substantial evidence to support them.  Despite this strong presumption, the court overturned PERB's decision.

Stay tuned as the unions are likely to seek review in the Supreme Court of California.