Police, City to Debate Pensions at Public Arbitration Hearing

UPDATE: The city of San Jose came to an agreement on tier-2 retirement benefits with the POlice Officers Association on Thursday afternoon, avoiding Friday’s arbitration hearing.

San Jose faces a $2.9 billion unfunded liability in pension and retiree healthcare costs. The figure is mind-boggling. The city still has to figure out how to afford those unfunded obligations. But that’s another story for another time. On Friday, the public—for the first time—will have a chance to sit in on arbitration hearings that have been held previously behind closed doors, when the city negotiators sits across the table from San Jose’s police union.

In late 2010, Measure V met voter approval, opening up arbitration hearings between the city and unions.

If the city and the Police Officers Association reach an agreement on reduced benefits for future hires before that time, the matter won’t even reach a binding interest arbitration session. If it comes to that, however, arbitration will be held both Friday and possibly Monday. If the POA and the city remain at a stalemate over a successor memorandum of agreement on wages and other issues, they will meet for arbitration on May 6, 7 and 8.

Retired Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge John A. Flaherty is appointed to the neutral chair of the board while Deputy City Manager Alex Gurza and POA President Jim Unland will represent each side. Unland did not immediately return a call for comment.

The morning start time might be inconvenient for most working folks. City spokesman David Vossbrink says the sessions won’t be broadcast.

“No television,” he says. “It will run similar to a court proceeding, with [a] court stenographer, witnesses, testimony [and] advocates.”

Rehardless, the meeting presents a good opportunity for the public to attend in a show of civic responsibility. As a Merc editorial put it: “You voted for it. Now show up.”

WHAT: Police Officers Association arbitration with the City of San Jose
WHEN: 9:30am Friday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Bias journalism and outright lies by omission. SJI and Jennifer good work. Keep it up maybe the Mercury News will hire you someday. Meanwhile the citizens will suffer. How small will the police force be when the only applicants have PFN numbers? These are the types with GED that will jump on a chance to be a cop and pay 50% of their earning toward healthcare and retirement. There is NO OTHER AGENCY IN THE ENTIRE STATE OF CALIFORNIA that is implementing something this drastic. Jennifer why are you so blinded by the mayor and his lies? What do these people in the ivory tower have on you “journalists”?

  2. If $2.9B is “mind-boggling” for pension and health care, why is it that San Jose’s $1.9B debt for the Airport and $5.2B debt for Redevelopment aren’t described with similar adjectives?

    Why does the Murky News, and SJI, repeatedly insinuate that the City employee benefits are the sole cause and pension reform is the cure?  Rarely are taxpayers reminded that outstanding debt for non-essential services is more than *TWICE* the projected shortfall.

    Not intending to disregard the pension shortfall, it’s useful to remind readers that the pension/health funds are viewed over a 30 year amortization and projected shortfalls can be mitigated by investment returns.  The SJC and RD debt are in today’s dollars, unfazed by potential investments- we owe $7,100,000,000.00 right now- plus future interest.  But, you don’t hear about those debts at community meetings or from City Hall.  Media is complicit in the lies by omission.

    As an aside, I think it’s useful to remind taxpayers that decades ago pension fund managers were chided for their conservative investments and modest returns. The stock market was manic and the pensions were encouraged to invest- and relented to pressure to do so.  Things went well for a while and returns were in double digits.  30 year projections were adjusted to an average of around 8%/year.  Of course, the market crashed and unsurprisingly, the fund managers were roundly berated for investing in the “unstable” stock market.  For the past few years all we heard was 8% is unrealistic, it can’t be sustained…  Why, oh, why do the fund managers make such poor decisions… Can’t win for losing!

    By the way, your “unfunded liability” link in the first sentence is for Santa Clara County healthcare, a separate issue from San Jose’s shortfalls.  Maybe you could find some time to link articles related to SJC debt and RD debt, which are more relevant to this story.

  3. Chalk up another notch on Chuck Reed’s six-shooter—his campaign to police San Jose on the cheap just scored another direct hit, promising the citizens of this city decades of low-paid, long-in-the-tooth, bottom-of-the-barrel cops.

    But at oh what a price:

    to property values (equity sucking crime rates)

    to business revenues (only flea marked quality shops will prosper)

    to tax coffers (add above two elements)

    and to the city treasury (less coming in via taxes, more going out via police misconduct lawsuits)

    Voters wanted Stockton by the Bay? Enjoy.

  4. This means less than Nothing , Measure “B “will be invalidated in the Courts . This City is Facing at least 13 Different Lawsuits , it has spent upwards of $ 1.5 million dollars to date , fighting just 1 of those lawsuits . AND has lost every decision regarding that lawsuit to Date . It would have been easier to Honestly and Openly negotiate with Public Safety. This Mayor is so Full of himself , that he wouldnt allow it .

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