Even as City Council members and the city's firefighters are waging public campaigns for and against Measure D, which would repeal the binding-arbitration requirement in the City Charter, attorneys for both sides are clashing over whether the ballot measure is legal in the first place — a conflict that promises to stretch beyond Nov. 8.
The legal dispute was prompted by an "unfair labor practice" complaint that the union, International Association of Firefighters, Local 1319, filed against the city shortly after the City Council voted 5-4 in July to place the repeal measure on the ballot. The union argued the city violated labor law by not negotiating with the unions in good faith before placing on the ballot a measure that would change the process for resolving disputes.
The city countered that the firefighters had plenty of opportunity to discuss binding arbitration with city officials before July. Binding arbitration empowers a three-member panel of arbitrators to settle labor disputes between the city and its public-safety unions. The firefighters union vehemently opposes the measure.
The city has also argued binding arbitration is not a subject that requires meet-and-confer sessions with the union under state law.
The verdict, which the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) has agreed to postpone until after the election, could have major ramifications on the results of Measure D. If the court were to rule against the city, it would provide the union with a basis to legally challenge the results of the Nov. 8 election, should Measure D pass.
The labor-relations board was planning to issue its verdict this month but Chief Administrative Law Judge Shawn Cloughesy agreed this month to wait until after the election.
In post-hearing briefs to the labor-relations court, each side has laid out its case. The firefighters pointed to a Section 3507 in the labor code that requires "good faith" negotiations with unions on a variety of issues, including "additional procedures for the resolution of disputes involving wage, hours and other terms and conditions of employment."
The city argued that the union had plenty of opportunities to provide feedback on the proposed labor reforms, which have been the subject of nearly two years of public debate.
The city also maintains that it's the superior courts, rather than PERB, that have jurisdiction over arbitration matters. Charles Sakai, an attorney representing the city cited a section of the labor code that states that "superior courts shall have exclusive jurisdiction over actions involving interest arbitration" when the action involves a firefighters union. Thus, the union's complaint, Sakai argued, "must be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction."