A proposal making its way to the City Council this week would relax some of the disability retirement rules for public safety workers imposed by voter-approved pension reforms.
The ordinance would guarantee that cops and firefighters who get hurt in the line of duty yet don’t qualify for retirement under Measure B rules would get a desk job with the same pay. For example, an injured patrol officer who normally earns $46.73 an hour would make just as much as a dispatcher, though the position normally maxes out at $35.19 an hour.
San Jose’s police union blames the reform measure’s restrictions on disability retirements for scaring away officers to other cities. The San Jose Police Department’s sworn-officer force shrank from more than 1,400 to less than 800 over the past several years. And a growing number of new recruits leave for other departments right after academy training.
The disability pension reforms in Measure B followed a 2011 audit that pointed to abuses in the system. The internal investigation found that 40 percent of cops and 66 percent of firefighters claimed disability retirements—some of the highest rates in the state.
But Councilman Don Rocha says the disability pension issue is only part of the problem. The entire city has trouble attracting and retaining employees, he says in a memo going before the council Tuesday. Staffing shortages continue to plague the wastewater treatment plant, the dispatch center and the planning and finance departments where some positions have remained vacant for years.
“These are just a few examples—there are many more,” Rocha writes. “How could anyone deny that we have a severe problem across the entire organization, or chalk it all up to the police union? Is the Police union scaring away electricians and planners too?”
Part of the reason people pass up working for the city is because the retirement age is a decade older than comparable public agencies, he says.
“Is it realistic to expect a highly qualified candidate to delay their retirement for the privilege of working in San Jose?” he asks.
That dynamic affects more than just the police recruitment, he continues. With the exception of the housing director, every current department head was appointed to the job. In many cases, the city eschewed outside recruitment altogether because qualified candidates didn’t want to accept an older retirement age along with other reduced benefits.
“We're the ones who put Measure Bon the ballot, we should also be the ones who fix it,” writes Rocha, who was among the council majority that moved to put the reforms on the 2012 ballot. “Our residents shouldn't have to wait for new leadership in January to solve this problem.”
For more from this week's council agenda, click here.
WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk. 408.535.1260