Anti-labor CA Gov Brown Caves To Get Continued Federal Funding For Transit-Transit Workers Get Reprieve On Attacks On Public Pensions While Sacramento Transit Bosses Fight Law pushed by CA Demo Legislature

Anti-labor CA Gov Brown Caves To Get Continued Federal Funding For Transit-Transit Workers Get Reprieve On Attacks On Public Pensions While Sacramento Transit Bosses Fight Law pushed by CA Demo Legislature
California mass-transit workers get pension reprieve
By Jon Ortiz
Published: Thursday, Sep. 5, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Federal officials cut off $54 million for Sacramento Regional Transit on Wednesday, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown to announce a pension-law compromise intended to keep the money flowing to transit agencies on the verge of losing grant funds.

With a series of similar U.S. Department of Labor rulings likely that would have disrupted $1.6 billion in grants statewide for this year alone, Brown's office said the governor supports Assembly Bill 1222, which would exempt mass-transit employees from the pension law while the matter is hashed out in federal court.

Labor officials stopped the Sacramento agency's money for light-rail construction to Elk Grove after ruling that the transit district implemented California's pension law in violation of a federal law that requires agencies to preserve employees' collective representation to receive mass-transit grants.

Unions representing some 20,000 mass-transit workers in agencies statewide have argued that the pension law championed by Brown last year mandated retirement downgrades that should have been bargained.

Sacramento Regional Transit Director Mike Wiley said the Labor Department's decision came after transit officials exhausted every administrative avenue. The legislation won't come soon enough to prevent the district from permanently losing $14 million of the denied funds in October.

Sacramento RT plans to file a lawsuit in federal court to test whether its compliance with pension law changes violates federal law.

Fares won't be affected by the district's legal moves, Wiley said.

Although the proposed legislation would temporarily exempt mass transit workers from pension rollbacks affecting nearly every other state government, local government or special district employee in California, union spokesman Barry Broad said the unions aren't claiming victory.

"This isn't something we see as a win or loss," Broad said. "It serves the purpose of allowing the federal grant money to flow, which we all support, while the matter is litigated in court."

Joshua Shaw, executive director of the California Transit Association, said his organization supports Brown's plan.

"We hope the litigation process goes favorably for Sacramento RT and the governor," Shaw said. "If it doesn't … we'll have to see where we are at that point."

The Brown administration announced the plan, then referred calls to the bill's authors, Assemblymen Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, and Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica.

"This does two things," Dickinson said of the legislation. "It preserves our ability to pursue projects and gives us a method to resolve this dispute."

The measure also sets up a $26 million state loan program for transit operators who, like Sacramento, lose federal funding. The money has to be repaid to the State Transportation Fund by Jan. 1, 2019.

Wednesday's news opened a new chapter in a story that started in 2012, shortly after Brown signed a sweeping law that required most state and local government employees to pay more into their pension accounts and required new pension fund members work longer for less-generousretirement benefits.

Several mass transit unions began filing complaints with federal labor officials, citing a 1964 law that requires the Labor Department to certify that agencies are preserving their employees' collective representation as a condition of receiving the federal grants.

When Congress enacted the law, governments around the country were taking over struggling privately held transit companies. Lawmakers and unions worried that private workers needed their representation rights and benefits protected when they became government employees. At the time, most state and local civil servants didn't belong to a union.

Last month, U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez warned Brown that the department would begin decertifying transit agencies with grants in the pipeline because they had implemented the new pension law. He urged the administration and transit authorities to find common ground with the unions that bargain for some 20,000 mass transit employees. Those talks and negotiations failed to produce a resolution, leading to the Wednesday decertification for Sacramento's mass-transit district.

Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043.

Feds to resume sending transit money to Calif.
Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, Sep. 4, 2013 - 12:29 pm
Last Modified: Wednesday, Sep. 4, 2013 - 5:18 pm
LOS ANGELES -- Under a carefully orchestrated deal, California would again receive billions of dollars of mass transit funds that the federal government was withholding amid a dispute over cuts to public employee pension benefits.

As a result, transportation systems across the state no longer face service cuts and the prospect of abandoning planned light rail, subway and other construction projects.

The deal, announced Wednesday by the state's top Democrats as part of new legislation, temporarily exempts workers at public transit agencies from a 2012 California law that required public employees to contribute more to their retirement funds.

Unions objected in November, arguing that a 1964 federal law specifically protects public transit worker pensions against changes made outside of collective bargaining. The U.S. Department of Labor agreed, and refused to certify that California agencies were complying with federal law. That effectively blocked the release of at least $1.6 billion of U.S. Department of Transportation funds to California.

With dozens of mass transit projects affected from San Diego to the San Francisco Bay Area, and Democrats in control of the White House and California's Legislature and governorship, it seemed likely the money would eventually flow again.

Federal and state officials negotiated for months, and the state's transit agencies lobbied hard. The solution Wednesday includes not just legislation, which still must be passed before the Legislature leaves at the end of next week, but also a legal challenge.

The state and at least one transit agency — the Sacramento Regional Transit District — plan to argue in a lawsuit against the Labor Department that California's pension reforms should apply to transit workers. If a judge sides with the Labor Department, the transit worker exemption would be permanent. Under Wednesday's legislation, it is scheduled to expire at the end of 2014.

"Federal transit money creates jobs and this legislation keeps those funds flowing while allowing the state to defend in court our landmark pension reforms," Gov. Jerry Brown said in a written statement.

Both the Labor Department and Amalgamated Transit Union, which was the initial challenger to California's pension reforms, said in written statements that they support the deal — and are confident their common view will prevail in court.

The legislation's year-plus exemption won't apply to the Sacramento district, and on Wednesday, the Labor Department formally "decertified" a $14 million grant it had been awarded.

That was the first time in the past 15 years — covering more than 28,000 grant applications — that the Labor Department had denied transit funds, spokesman Mike Trupo said.

While the Sacramento district's CEO Mike Wiley said his agency had planned for the decertification, and state help would ensure that projects continue, managers at other agencies expressed relief that the money would restart soon.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority was able to front money so far this year — but its leaders openly worried about coming months, when MTA plans to solicit bids for a subway extension to the city's westside and a downtown light rail project. Between them, the projects rely on $3 billion of federal grants or loans.

In an interview, Art Leahy, the agency's CEO, said that while the Legislature still needs to act, a crisis has been averted.

"We think that we're fine," Leahy said, "and we're going to proceed on that basis."

Associated Press writer Juliet Williams in Sacramento, Calif., contributed to this report.

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Jerry Brown backs bill to let transit workers sidestep pension law
September 4, 2013

Jerry Brown backs bill to let transit workers sidestep pension law
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.

PHOTO: A light rail train crosses Eighth Street on K Street in Sacramento on July 29, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/José Luis Villegas

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