The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

February 25, 2011
Attorneys' union calls Little Hoover report 'irresponsible'

The state legal professionals' union said today that Thursday's Little Hoover Commission report and pension change recommendations are "irresponsible" and "cynical" and notes that "the various reports of the Little Hoover Commission seldom have any significant impact on policy decisions."

And that's the nice part of California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges, and Hearing Officers in State Employment memo to members. Here's the whole thing:

February 25, 2011

Dear Unit 2 Colleague:

As you are likely aware, a recently-released report from the Little Hoover Commission (click here to read the report) urges California state and local governments to reform pensions for both current and future state employees. CASE has previously researched this issue in the face of previous threats to our members' pension rights. The law is clear: any effort to reduce pension rights for current employees must either be agreed to at the bargaining table, or, if attempted unilaterally by the State, must be compensated for with benefits of comparable value (for example, higher salary).

The Little Hoover Commission report expressly recognizes the large body of case law holding that it is unconstitutional for the State to unilaterally reduce the vested terms of the contractual relationship once an employee enters into the employment contract. Nevertheless, the report implicitly urges governments to take such unconstitutional action in an effort to set up a legal battle in hopes of changing long-settled legal principles. Interestingly, the report even quotes a University of Minnesota law professor as saying that "legal interpretations are likely to continue evolving in order to reflect the changing economic conditions driving current policy efforts to reform pensions." CASE believes it is irresponsible to suggest that an independent judiciary would upend decades of jurisprudence based simply on cyclical economic conditions. However, even if this cynical view of the judiciary and legal profession is correct, CASE believes that the law and facts would work to our advantage in any litigation. As just one example, the report glosses over the fact that employer contributions were reduced to zero when investment returns were good, while employee contributions during that same time remained unchanged. In other words, the state enjoys the benefits of good economic times, but when the economy sours, employees are expected to bear the entire burden. It is unlikely a court would rule that CASE members should be forced to give up their bargained-for pensions simply because the State failed to put money into the system during a time when it had huge cash surpluses.

CASE members should know that the various reports of the Little Hoover Commission seldom have any significant impact on policy decisions. Regardless, CASE will closely monitor the extent to which this latest reform proposal gains any traction. CASE stands ready to vigorously defend the rights of our members in court, in the Legislature, and in the workplace should our vested, bargained-for pensions be attacked.

As always, you support of CASE and your colleagues in Bargaining Unit 2 is greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

The CASE Board of Directors

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at jortiz@sacbee.com.

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