Firefighters union accused of intimidation tactics

Public employee unions in San Diego are accused of using intimidation tactics to slow down signature drives to put a pension reform measure on the ballot next year.

The firefighters union has the most to lose if the voters approve pension reform because new hires will lose the lucrative benefits that current firefighters enjoy.

They, and others, have taken their cause to the streets. The unions are tracking down the locations of the signature gatherers, and their job is to keep as many people from signing as possible.

They will engage the signature gatherers in conversation to consume their time. In most cases they hold up signs and surround the person, blocking access. They will engage the public to encourage them not to sign, and they will interrupt the process.

This war over signatures is being fought at several storefronts around San Diego, and there is a lot of passion on both sides.

Each accuses the other of misinformation, and there's some evidence of this on both sides.

The Lincoln Club hired a private investigator to document what's happening at some of these locations.

T.J. Zane of the Lincoln Club said he's gotten calls and emails from people complaining about heated conversations, but he's heard nothing about physical confrontations.

“I've never accused anybody of doing anything illegal, but citizens shouldn't be made to feel uncomfortable or intimidated when they go to sign a petition,” Zane said.

The laws governing initiatives are somewhat lax. T.J. Zane calls the unions' tactics, “goon squads.”

“They're pro-union forces, and they're out there enforcing the union line. I think in the past I've been accused of calling members of the government unions worse things, but they are what they are in this instance and it's union good squads, they're out there blocking or attempting to block San Diegans from exercising their ability to qualify something for the ballot,” Zane said.

On more than one occasion the firefighters union has failed to respond to our requests for an interview, as was the case today. The initiative basically prevents future pension problems by capping the pay of current workers, and putting all new hires, except cops, into a 401(K) retirement plan.

And the unions will no longer be able to block reforms as they could do in the past.

The more signatures that are collected, the more the signature gatherers earn.

On the union's side their job is to increase the benefits of their members, not lose benefits.

These competing positions can, and have lead to, some misrepresentations by both sides.

Categories: KUSI