Gov. Jerry Brown has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Labor Department, which had withheld transit funds from the county’s largest state in a dispute over California’s pension reform.
The Labor Department’s new department head, Thomas. E. Perez, sent an Aug. 1 letter to the governor claiming transit grant rules require collective bargaining by the transportation employees and state and local government. He claimed that the state’s pension reform was a change that required bargaining with transit employees.
The state’s labor secretary, however, countered that it merely modified what pensions the state could offer and didn’t abrogate their collective bargaining rights.
The states’ lawsuit, announced Oct. 4, asserts that “congressional intent” was that state labor law rather than federal labor law “defines the substantive meaning of collective bargaining rights.”
The Labor Department claimed that the Public Employees Pension Reform Act, which primarily affects new hires, was an infringement on collective bargaining rights, “based on decisions under the National Labor Relations Act (which does not apply to public employees) holding that new or future employees are entitled to pension benefits set forth in collective bargaining agreements in place prior to their obtaining employment.”
The state’s lawsuit says the Labor Department’s “interpretation of state law are due no deference.”
The governor’s lawsuit claims the U.S. Labor Department’s actions were arbitrary and capricious.” And the governor also noted “Under California labor law, prospective employees have no vested right to any benefits prior to accepting employment.”
We don’t see how Perez can claim the state is infringing on collective bargaining rights of future employees. It is just absurd.
Even more fascinating is the state’s third claim against the U.S. Labor Department that it violated the Spending Clause of the U.S. Constitution which empowers Congress to “pay the debts and provide … for the general welfare of the United States.” “The Spending Clause does not permit attaching conditions to federal grants where the conditions operate primarily to coerce a state into changing its laws in a field Congress generally leaves to state regulation…”
The governor also complains, with justification, that the U.S. Labor Department’s demand that it change its pension reform legislation or lose the $1 billion in transit aid “undermined the independent fiscal and legislative sovereignty of California.”
The state is seeking injunctive relief. The court should issue an injunction against Labor Secretary Perez immediately and order that the transit funds be released until the case is more thoroughly the aired in federal district court, something likely to take a year and stretch out even further as the losing side appeals the decision.
Our congratulations to the governor for filing this lawsuit. That’s the only way to stop this out-of-control administration President Obama is running.