Almanac

News - September 21, 2011

Unions sue Menlo Park over pension initiative

by Sandy Brundage

Two labor unions filed a lawsuit in San Mateo County Superior Court on Sept. 15, challenging the legality of Measure L, the pension reform initiative passed last year by 72 percent of Menlo Park voters.

Measure L raised the minimum retirement age for new Menlo Park public employees, excluding police officers, by five years to 60, and also decreased their maximum pension benefits by 0.7 percentage points to 2 percent of their highest annual salary averaged over three years.

Under this measure, a new hire who retired at age 60 after working for the city for 30 years would receive 60 percent of his or her average salary. Current employees can retire at age 55 and get 81 percent after working 30 years.

Finally, Measure L also took benefit increases out of the hands of the City Council — all increases now require voter approval, which seems to be the key issue at the heart of this latest lawsuit, based on documents filed by Olson, Hagel & Fishburn, the firm representing union interests.

Describing the measure as "clearly invalid," the filing states that Measure L is void by "usurping the authority the Legislature has exclusively delegated to the City Council and purporting to impose terms and conditions of employment in a manner contrary to state labor relations."

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) lost a lawsuit to keep Measure L off the ballot, and then poured at least $69,000 into defeating it at the ballot box, according to campaign finance reports.

"They're misguided, litigious, and they're making the city spend resources," said Roy Thiele-Sardina, who helped lead Measure L to a successful showing at the ballot box.

Union representatives were not available for comment by the Almanac's deadline.

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