The State Workers: Jerry Brown backs bill to let transit workers sidestep pension law

jortiz@sacbee.comSeptember 4, 2013 

7th and K Street, Zack Durden, 15, and Jonathan Jackson, 15, wait for the light rail train to pass before crossing on Monday night, July 29, 2013

JOSE LUIS VILLEGAS — jvillegas@sacbee.com

A billion-dollar stare down with federal officials ended this morning with an announcement that Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed legislation to exempt roughly 20,000 mass transit employees from California's new pension law.

The measure, which is expected to move swiftly through the Legislature, was prompted by the U.S. Department of Labor's decision today to suspend millions of dollars in grant money for the Sacramento Regional Transit District.

Assemblymen Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, and Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, will author the legislation.

Although the administration's announcement says the bill "preserves the state's ability to fight for the pension reform law in court," the news is at least a temporary win for the mass-transit unions, which argued California's pension law mandated terms that should have been collectively bargained.

Although the Brown administration disagreed, U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez sided with the unions' position. He warned the governor earlier this year that $1.6 billion in federal money for mass transit projects around the state was at risk because federal law requires that grant recipients preserve their employees' collective representation. The Labor Department certification of that requirement is the last step before the money is released.

Brown's proposal exempts mass-transit employees from pension changes that required they pay more toward their own retirement accounts and mandated new hires work longer to receive less-generous benefits than their longer-tenured coworkers.

Brown's office declined to comment.

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