Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - October 14, 2011

Two views on Measure D

No on Measure D

City should modify, not throw out, binding arbitration

by Gary Fazzino, John Barton and LaDoris Cordell

We believe there is a better solution than the outright repeal of binding arbitration, as proposed by Measure D, and encourage voters to vote no so the City Council, police officers, and firefighters can work together for a compromise alternative.

Having served on the city council, we know what it's like to negotiate contracts with the city's public safety unions under the city's binding arbitration law. It isn't always easy, but it is true that the best solution always comes from agreement at the bargaining table. And that's how the majority of contracts have been reached over the last three decades, including the successfully negotiated contract agreement that was announced by the city and the firefighters just last month.

When the voters of Palo Alto passed binding arbitration in 1978, it was a different time. The city was facing a different financial picture and had different obligations. There is no doubt that times have changed, and laws need to change with those times. That's why the city council spent the last several months looking at real options to reform binding arbitration, rather than repeal it. A process where the city council works with our police officers and firefighters to craft an updated modification of binding arbitration is the better approach and the fairer approach.

It was only by one vote after a controversial debate that outright repeal was put on the ballot in the form of Measure D. In Palo Alto, binding arbitration is a matter of fairness; and Palo Altans value fairness. Unlike other unions in the city, police officer and fire fighters do not have the right to strike. Their only option in cases where contract negotiations break down is to go to a neutral third-party arbitrator to settle disputes. Without binding arbitration, an alternative resolution process, or the right to strike, police officers and firefighters effectively lose their collective bargaining rights. Binding arbitration gives police and firefighters a level playing field with other city employees.

In addition, Measure D is unnecessary because binding arbitration has rarely been used. In the 33 years since binding arbitration was passed by the voters, binding arbitration has been used only six times. In fact, the last time binding arbitration was used for fire fighter wages and benefits was in 1980.

We urge voters to take a close look at Measure D and realize that there is a better solution that treats our police and firefighters fairly while protecting taxpayers. Updating binding arbitration or finding an alternative that is updated for the 21st century without undermining the collective bargaining rights of police and fire should be our goal. Measure D does not achieve that goal.

We urge voters to join us in opposing repeal of binding arbitration. Vote No on Measure D, so the city council can work with police and fire fighters to craft meaningful consensus reform that everyone can support.

Yes on Measure D

Time to stop giving arbiter power over city's finances

by Pat Burt and Larry Klein

On Nov. 8, the citizens of Palo Alto will be asked to make a critical decision affecting the long term financial health of our city. Binding arbitration for public safety employees is an outdated practice used by less than 5 percent of California cities. Surrounding communities of Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park all negotiate fairly without binding arbitration.

Currently, third party arbiters get to make final decisions on critical issues that determine the financial well-being of our city. Unfortunately, these arbiters don't base their rulings on the financial consequences to the city nor do they weigh whether their ruling is fair to other employee groups. Arbiters don't consider whether an additional union benefit will mean that streets, parks, libraries and social services would suffer as a result.

Professional arbiters come primarily from union backgrounds. They may be third parties, but they are not neutral and they are typically biased towards the unions in their sympathies and their rulings. Over the years, the mere threat of arbitration has forced the city to make concessions that are fiscally unsound. The results of this system have been unsustainable:

* Pension costs for fire and police are up over 30 percent between 2009 and 2012. Currently, firemen earn a pension that is 3 percent of their highest years' salary multiplied by the number of years worked. This means that they can retire at 50 years old receiving 90 percent of their salary for life.

* Public safety expenses for the city rose 80 percent over the last decade while costs of other city departments have been nearly frozen.

The recent Santa Clara County Grand Jury report said that binding arbitration was contributing to unsustainable long term financial obligations for cities and they recommended specifically that Palo Alto end its use. Your city council is determined to not allow Palo Alto to slip into a crisis like we are seeing in San Jose and other cities.

The fire union strongly opposes Measure D. They will spend large amounts of money, hire lawyers and apply political pressure to defeat this measure. They have already tried to keep it off the ballot, they will spend freely to try to defeat it and then they will attempt to prevent it from being implemented after the election.

Public safety will remain the most important service Palo Alto provides its citizens. Our firefighters and police are valued members of the community. However, it is essential that your elected representatives have the ability to negotiate in good faith, but without handing final decision making authority to outsiders who don't have to live with the results.

Measure D is about fiscal responsibility. Palo Altans have been clear. They want their city government to reform its cost structure to match the economic realities we face. Measure D enables your elected officials to manage the fiscal future of Palo Alto while holding them accountable for the results.

Help us restore fiscal responsibility for Palo Alto. Vote for Measure D.

Pat Burt and Larry Klein are members of the City Council.

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