Pension reform has become a contentious issue on the Pleasanton Weekly's Town Square forum where commentators, mostly anonymous, have voiced their views on pensions and other benefits being provided to government workers. While these comments make some valid points in comparing public workers' continuing strong pension benefits to those that have largely collapsed in the private sector with huge losses in company-sponsored 401K accounts, all too many comments have unfairly, often wrongly and sometimes viciously attacked Pleasanton city employees over their benefits. So far, these kinds of comments have not made it into the council chamber and we hope they don't.
At issue Tuesday is a tentative agreement between the city and the employees' union, Pleasanton City Employees Association, for a new contract that would expire March 31, 2013. The city recently signed off on a new contract with the firefighters union and will be negotiating a new contract late this year with the union that represents Pleasanton police officers.
The PCEA contract, which covers 227 union members, has been targeted by a group of Pleasanton residents who are concerned about the city's unfunded pension liabilities. Depending on whose accounting formula is used, these liabilities range from $121 million to $290 million.
To start, the citizens' group, represented by businessman Bart Hughes, has asked the city to start closing the gap on these unfunded liabilities by requiring employees to pick up a share of pension contributions that the city has fully paid since 2002. The PCEA contract, negotiated by the city last summer with a tentative agreement reached last Nov. 9, addresses the issue for the first time, with the city's unionized employees to contribute 2% of their salaries toward their pension fund, which is handled by the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS). That would amount to $722,000 annually.
But that's not enough. Hughes and others want the tentative contract scuttled and re-negotiated to require a larger pension contribution. He cites the recent contract between the city and City Manager Nelson Fialho, who voluntarily agreed to pay the full employee share of 8% of his annual compensation. Hughes and his colleagues argue that by agreeing to these new terms, Fialho recognized the importance of raising all employee contributions, and that the 2% offered by the PCEA is not enough. In fact, recently, at Fialho's urging, all non-union management employees agreed to contribute 4% of their salaries toward their pensions, an amount the citizens' coalition wants the PCEA to accept.
Tuesday's meeting, which substitutes a workshop for the regular City Council meeting, comes as a result of street-corner lobbying by Hughes, former City Councilwoman Kay Ayala and David Smith, who identifies himself as a Tea Party supporter. They gathered 230 signatures on a petition calling for the public workshop, which will be televised on TV30's Channel 29 at 7 p.m.
At its meeting Jan. 18, when the council voted to delay consideration of the PCEA contract, Brenda Wood, the business agent for the employees' union, told the council that although she didn't object to the postponement, she believed that the union had negotiated the new contract in good faith and that she expected it to be approved. An estimated 45 city employees, who were at the meeting and are members of the PCEA, applauded her statement. This Tuesday night, America's new civility effort will be put to the test right here in Pleasanton.