Awaiting consensus - Page 2

The long-anticipated compromise pension reform plan still has a couple of key critics

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"SEIU is right that Mayor Lee's proposal is inequitable," Adachi added, noting that Measure B was criticized for being unfair to lower-income workers. "That's why my new proposal increases pension contribution rates in $10,000 graduations. But under Lee's plan, a person who earns $100,000 contributes the same rate as someone who makes $50,000."

He criticized Lee's plan for requesting only modest increases from safety workers. "Police and fire cost two to three times as much as everyone else's retirement. They pay 17 percent of what's in the fund and take out 36 percent. So that means SEIU folks are subsidizing the costs of safety workers' retirement."

Adachi acknowledged it would be better to have one measure everyone can support. "But I don't agree that we should put ineffective reform on the ballot," he said.

Adachi took a lead role on the issue in 2010 when he qualified Measure B mostly with backing from a few wealthy sponsors, including venture capitalist Michael Moritz, a financial supporter of Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio Republican Party. Adachi took lots of political heat for the move, but he shrugs off the criticisms.

"It comes down to making sure people understand the issue," he said. "A year ago, no one was acknowledging that it was a problem, but now everyone does. I'm hoping the board strengthens the proposal. It's going to take supervisors really looking at this to see if works, not just jumping on the bandwagon."

According to the Department of Human Resources, Lee's plan would yield an estimated savings of $800 million to $1 billion over 10 years, with the bulk coming from increased employee retirement fund contributions of up to 6 percent for future and current employees. The proposal raises the retirement age from 62 to 65 for most city workers and from 55 to 58 for public safety workers. It also imposes caps on pensions for new employees.

Lee's proposal must now make its way through the Rules Committee and win the approval of the full board by July 12, the deadline for supervisors to submit charter amendments. According to the Department of Human Resources, 89 percent of San Francisco's 26,000 city workers earn more than $50,000. That means only 3,000 city workers fall below the $50,000 cut-off that exempt them from paying extra, under Lee's plan.

But Larry Bradshaw, a bargaining unit member of SEIU 1021, said that members who make slightly more than that threshold will face pay cuts under the plan, on top of the pay cuts they took last year to avoid being laid off by Mayor Gavin Newsom.

For certified nursing assistants, the shift would amount to a roughly $12,000 annual pay cut, Bradshaw said. Security guards would face an estimated $5,000 per year cut, and clerical workers could face anywhere from $1,000 to $11,000 per year.

These workers faced getting fired and rehired at lower-paid classifications to make up for a revenue shortfall, but the union reached an agreement to stave off the worst pay cuts for those "de-skilled" employees by imposing a one percent across-the-board cut for all members in order to restore the salary cuts.

As SEIU workers take the pay cut to fund pensions, he said union members won't be able to continue subsidizing the salaries of these deskilled workers.

"So we're not going to have that option of asking our members to keep funding these workers who have taken this 20 percent pay cut," he said. "And these are primarily women and people of color."

But Sup. Sean Elsbernd and other supporters of the pension deal say the plight of these workers is an unrelated issue. "They aren't a pension issue, so wouldn't it be more appropriate to discuss them in the collective bargaining context?"

Elsbernd believes Lee's measure is "fair and equitable," partly because employees' pension contributions would be reduced in boom years when tax revenue and stock market gains swell the city's coffers.

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