California to Trump: If You Build the Wall, We’ll Divest

Employee Benefits News examines legal developments that impact the employee benefits and executive compensation employers provide, including federal and state legislation, rules from federal...

By Laura Mahoney

California lawmakers and officials in three cities want to divest from companies that help build President Donald Trump’s proposed 30-foot-high wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.

A bill lawmakers announced March 20 would require the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and California State Teachers’ Retirement System to divest pension fund holdings in companies that win contracts with U.S. Customs and Border Protection involving the wall.

The two systems are the largest pension systems in the country and are valued at a combined $514 billion. It is unclear how much of their holdings could fall under the bill.

‘Resist the Wall Act.’

The legislation ( A.B. 946) will be amended in the next week to be called the Resist the Wall Act and can be considered in committee in April. Assembly members Phil Ting (D), Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D) and Eduardo Garcia (D) announced the bill three days after the federal government invited vendors to submit proposals for the border wall Trump has pledged to build.

“We don’t want to spend a single cent building a wall that the people of California don’t support,” Ting told Bloomberg BNA March 20.

Both pension systems would have 12 months to liquidate investments in companies that win contracts or subcontracts related to the wall under the Resist the Wall Act.

The bill states that California’s diversity is a “great source of innovation and industry, making California one of the largest economies in the world and an economic engine for the United States.” It also states that Trump made “prejudiced assertions” during his presidential campaign, including “calling Mexicans rapists and ‘bad hombres.’”

Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco

In Berkeley, the city council approved a resolution March 14 denouncing Trump’s plan for the wall and recommending that the city extract itself from business with companies involved in its construction. Berkeley will “to the best of its ability divest from any companies involved in the construction of the wall,” but the resolution doesn’t specify that divestment includes its employee pension funds.

Oakland and San Francisco are considering measures that would ban city contracts with companies involved in building the wall.

Oakland’s resolution, up for a vote of the city council March 21, also calls on CalPERS to divest from companies involved in the project and urges other U.S. cities and counties to adopt similar policies.

CalPERS administers pension benefits for Berkeley and Oakland employees.

San Francisco supervisors will announce plans March 21 for a city law banning border wall contractors from bidding on San Francisco construction projects.

Bay Bridge Engineer

San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen (D) pointed to T.Y. Lin International, which was the lead design engineering firm on the San Francisco Bay Bridge east span project and has added itself to the Department of Homeland Security’s list of vendors that may bid on the border wall.

“We’re asking companies like T.Y. Lin International to continue building bridges, not walls,” Ronen said in a statement March 20.

CalSTRS spokesman Ricardo Duran said in an emailed statement that the system is analyzing the bill and hasn’t taken a position yet.

“If passed, CalSTRS will implement the provisions of the legislation after considering its potential impact on the fund and balancing this impact against CalSTRS’ fiduciary responsibility to its members,” Duran said.

Governance Principals

A CalPERS spokeswoman told Bloomberg BNA in a March 20 email system officials haven’t seen the bill yet and can’t comment on it but that generally, CalPERS believes divestment is harmful to its long-term sustainability.

Under its global governance principles, CalPERS prefers “constructive engagement” to divesting as a way to affect the conduct of the entities in which it invests.

“This is because investors that divest lose their ability as shareowners to positively influence the company’s strategy and governance,” the CalPERS principals state.

California lawmakers have a long history of pushing CalPERS and CalSTRS to divest from specific industries for policy reasons. Most recently, in 2015 the Legislature enacted a measure requiring CalPERS and CalSTRS to divest from coal companies by July 1, 2017.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura Mahoney in Sacramento, Calif. at LMahoney@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bna.com

For More Information

The Resist the Wall Act is available at http://src.bna.com/m9Y.

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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