San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed seems to be headed for a showdown with the city’s unions over the way union pay negotiations are settled. In a May 5 San Jose Rotary Club speech, Reed called publicly for a revision of the City Charter in an audacious move to wrest power away from the unions representing the city’s firefighters and police force. Harking back to his days as a labor lawyer, Reed pointed to a clause in the Charter that forces the city into binding arbitration if and when negotiations with the unions break down.
That clause was the result of a ballot fight 30 years back, which the unions won. Reed now seems to be calling for a rematch.
“Voters put it in, and voters can take it out,” he said bluntly.
The provocative comment drew swift response—Police Officers Association president Jim Unland, dialing the rhetoric up a notch, called the mayor’s idea “opportunistic scapegoating” in a post on the POA’s blog. Pointing out that Reed in fact voted for the current contract when he was on the City Council, Unland said, “it takes either a very poor memory or a whole lot of gall to speak so strongly against something you voted for.”
City Hall has gone silent on the subject, no doubt the calm before the storm. Reed-backer Sam Liccardo would only speak in general terms about the idea. Pointing out that his comments have nothing to do with any particular proposal that any particular mayor may or may not be hammering out, he would say only this: “The pace of increase of retirement costs are driving us inevitably to a mutually assured destruction. If we remain chained to the current structure, we can’t avoid ongoing layoffs and service cuts.” C’mon Sam, tell us what you really think.