Poll: Californians support unions but also want pensions capped

California voters don't have a problem with unions, but they're not so keen on public employee pensions promoted by organized labor, according to a new Field Poll.

Nearly half of registered voters – 46 percent – believe unions do more good than harm, while only 35 percent believe the opposite.

But strong majorities support capping public pensions, increasing what government workers pay toward their benefits and hiking their minimum retirement age. And by a narrow majority, they support a state government commission's controversial idea to alter pension formulas for current employees.

"Public pensions are now seen as too generous," said poll director Mark DiCamillo.

Reports about pay and pension abuses in Bell, University of California professors' complaints about their six-figure pension terms and last month's Little Hoover Commission report that concluded retirement obligations are "crushing" state and local government all fuel that perception, DiCamillo said.

In 2009, Field pollsters found that 32 percent of California voters thought public pensions were "too generous" and 40 percent thought they were "about right."

This month, the polling flipped: 42 percent said pensions are too generous and 34 percent said pensions are about right.

Steve Maviglio, spokesman for Californians for Health Care and Retirement Security, a union coalition, said the Field Poll doesn't reflect reality.

Many public employee unions have bargained pay cuts and increases to employees' share of pension contributions, Maviglio said. Many have lost their jobs or taken furloughs.

Government workers don't retire to a life of ease, he said, "but it's no secret that that public employees have been made a piñata in budget battles at the state and local level."

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