California unions assail public pension changes

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As Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Wednesday aimed at overhauling the state’s overburdened public pension system, he acknowledged that further action may be needed in the future, saying ‘government, like a battleship in the ocean, turns slowly.’

Labor unions representing California’s public employees reacted swiftly, arguing that they were already taking fire.


Willie Pelote, political director of the Assn. of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees, said Brown’s signature on the pension legislation ‘made his disdain for a secure future for public employees crystal clear.’

The changes require public employees hired starting next year to work longer before they retire with full benefits, place a cap on their pension benefits and restrict what is counted to prevent abuses. Current employees will have to pay at least 50% of the contribution toward their retirement plan.

Pelotesaid the legislation did not consider the concessions public employee unions have made in contract negotiations over the past few years. He contended that Brown’s ‘real intent is to take public retirement funds and hand them over to the same Wall Street gamblers who drove our economy into a ditch.’

To be sure, the pension legislation Brown signed Wednesday spared unions from some elements they had decried in his original proposal, including a requirement that new employees squirrel away a substantial portion of their retirement money in 401(k)-style accounts.

Business groups applauded the governor’s action, but called on him to use the initiative process to win more changes.

‘This legislation paves the way for the additional reforms necessary to help solve the state’s ongoing fiscal crisis but much more remains to be done,’ said Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable.



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-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento