City Had Duty to Meet and Confer Before Moving to Eliminate Pensions.

Position:RETIREMENT BENEFITS - San Diego, California

The California Supreme Court finds that the state court of appeals erred in its determination that the city of San Diego did not engage in an unfair labor practice when it failed to meet and confer over a decision to eliminate pensions for new municipal employees.

The plaintiffs include local municipal unions that represent municipal employees, including police and firefighters, and the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), which is the agency empowered by the legislature to adjudicate unfair labor practice claims under the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA) and six other public employment relations statutes. The defendant is the city of San Diego.

In November 2010, two San Diego city officials proposed public employee pension reforms. First, a council member recommended that defined benefit plans be replaced with 401(k)-style plans for all newly hired city employees. Next, the mayor declared that he would develop a citizens' initiative to eliminate traditional pensions for new hires, except for police and fire departments, and replace the pension plans with 401(k)-style plans. The unions wrote to the mayor, claiming that the city had an obligation under MMBA to meet and confer over the initiative because the mayor was acting in his capacity as a city official to promote the initiative and clearly made a determination of policy for the city related to mandatory subjects of bargaining.

The unions filed unfair labor practice charges based on the refusal of the city to meet and confer, and then PERB followed up with a complaint against the city, alleging that the failure to meet and confer violated MMBA and constituted an unfair practice. The claims were consolidated, and an administrative law judge was appointed to hold a hearing. The administrative law judge found in favor of the plaintiffs, and then PERB separately reviewed and affirmed the judge's decision. The defendant then challenged the PERB decision, and the court of appeals ruled that the defendant was not required to meet and confer before placing the initiative on a ballot for voting and that there was no unfair labor practice. This court granted review.

The California Supreme Court notes that courts generally defer to the PERB construction of labor law provisions within its jurisdiction, and the court here will follow the PERB interpretation unless it is clearly erroneous. Therefore, it will uphold the PERB decision if it is supported by substantial evidence on the whole record.


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