With billions of mass-transit dollars at stake, the U.S. Department of Labor said today that it will delay ruling on whether California's new pension law violates a 49-year-old federal statute that ties the funds to collective bargaining rights.
A spokesman for the Labor Department confirmed this morning that federal officials are holding off on making any decisions for now while they continue talks with strong Gov. Jerry Brown's office to resolve the thorny issue.
Brown spokesman Jim Evans said in an email that the administration is "gratified" federal authorities are giving the state more time and that state officials "will continue to work closely with the federal government in an effort to resolve this issue."
California has more than 100 regional mass-transit agencies in the pipeline, $1.6 billion for this year alone. Earlier this month, however, U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez warned Brown that the department would begin withholding the funds because the state's new public pension law likely violates the collective bargaining rights of some 20,000 mass transit employees.
Federal law requires that the Labor Department certify that mass-transit grant recipients preserve their employees' collective representation. Mass-transit unions contend the pension law that took effect Jan. 1 has imposed terms on their members that should be bargained.
In a letter to Brown earlier this month, Perez signaled that he agrees with the unions and that a series of decisions could have come down as early as today to decertify one transit agency after another, which would block their federal funds.
Gov. Jerry Brown's administration has said the pension law merely sets a new framework for public pension bargaining but that it doesn't weaken collective bargaining itself.
A message left this morning with mass-transit union spokesman Barry Broad wasn't immediately returned.
PHOTO: In this January 2013 view looking east, the Blue Line bridge - under construction - loops over Cosumnes River Blvd. near Bruceville Road. A conflict between California's public pension law and federal mass-transit grant law has put funding for the project in jeopardy. The Saramento Bee/Randy Pench