SD Unions Want Reform Too

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The unrest pitting governors in Wisconsin and several other states against their public employee unions, is being closely followed by local governments and their labor organizations here in San Diego County.

      So far, no direct challenges to collective bargaining rights have taken firm hold in California.
     
    But could that change?
     
    Relations between labor and management have been especially strained in the city of San Diego, whose previous administrations crafted labor contracts that have backfired on the balance sheets.
     
    Municipal unions say they're being scapegoated.
     
    Present management has been saying, sorry -- but we need more concessions.
     
    "There are some legitimate problems here, some legitimate budget issues," says Michael Zucchet, general manager of the San Diego Municipal Employees Assn. 
     
    "Unions have worked and given more than anybody, including the taxpayers, in terms of addressing them," Zucchet adds. "And certain politicians want to use that as an excuse to go for more -- politically."
     
    In recent years, rank-and-file city workers have taken their wage-and-benefit grievances to the streets and Civic Center Plaza in organized marches and rallies.
     
    But pushing back against management demands hasn't been getting easier.
     
    To critics of public employee unions, that's a good sign.
     
    "It seems the public employees exist to benefit public employees, and the servants have become the masters," says Eric Christen, executive director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, which has battled so-called 'project labor agreements' that put union controls on public-sector building ventures.
     
    "Unions in the past, up until about the past 60 years, really were the servants," Christen says.  "And the public -- the taxpayers -- they were the masters.  Now that's been turned on its head."
     
    For their part, labor leaders say most city workers are not getting rich on the job or in retirement -- that it's mainly the upper echelon.
     
    "The average pension coming out of the city is much closer to what you'd make on Social Security," says Lorena Gonzalez, CEO of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council.  "For the blue-collar worker, it's $27,000.  Living on $27,000 is tough, but they're doing it.  But that's the average pension."
     
    Ending collective bargaining for public employees may be quite a reach in California.
     
    Reforming it could be less so.
     
    "I think at the root of the problem," says T.J. Zane, president of the conservative-leaning Lincoln Club of San Diego, "is the lack of political will -- or spine -- on the part of elected officials to enforce contract terms or enact entitlement reform on the very same government unions to whom they're beholden."
     
    All this comes as the city's management team and six municipal labor unions are in the midst of negotiations on retiree health care.
     
    The issues are complex, and there's an unfunded liability of $1.2 billion involving nearly 10,000 employees.

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