The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

August 13, 2013
From the notebook: California and federal laws about to collide

NOTEBOOK_use_this.jpgOur story in today's fiber/cyber Sacramento Bee explains the looming crash between California's Public Employee Pension Reform Act and a federal mass-transit grant law that makes the money conditional on preserving collective representation of mass-transit workers.

Congress tied the federal strings tied to mass-transit money with a 1964 law intended to protect private mass-transportation employees' collective bargaining rights. Struggling mass-transit operations around the country were shifting from private-sector control to the public sector at the time, and unions worried their members would lose vested pension benefits, the right to strike and power to collectively negotiate contracts if they became public employees.

Back then, unions were common in private industry, but relatively rare in government. (California didn't allow local government employees to organize until 1968. First-term Gov. Jerry Brown signed a collective-bargaining law covering state employees nearly a decade later.) And then, as now, state and local government employers were expressly exempt from the National Labor Relations Act.

Today unions are much more prevalent in the public sector and have nearly disappeared on the private side.

Some links and embedded documents that add history and more details to today's report:

"Bill would exempt thousands of California public employees from pension overhaul" (Jan. 29 Sacramento Bee report)
Assembly Bill 160 analysis. The measure would exempt public mass-transit employees from pension reform.
"Brown aide defends pension reform for mass-transit workers" (Feb. 21 State Worker blog post)
Background on the Federal Transit Act, Section 13(c)
Legal Research Digest: "Transit Labor Protection -- A Guide to 13(c) Federal Transit Act"

And here's the memo from Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority CEO Arthur Leahy that includes a list of MTA projects at risk and a letter from U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to Gov. Jerry Brown warning that the feds are prepared to cut off funds:

Pension Reform Impacts on Transit

We can never get everything we learn into a news story. "From the notebook" posts give you some of the extra details behind the news.

ILLUSTRATION: Gabi Campanario / Seattle Times 2007

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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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