http://paloaltoonline.com/print/story/print/2011/07/15/palo-alto-may-require-mediation


Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 15, 2011

Palo Alto may require mediation

Proposed law would take effect if binding arbitration is repealed

by Gennady Sheyner

If Palo Alto voters decide to repeal the binding-arbitration provision from the City Charter this fall, the city could adopt a new law that forces management and unions to take their labor disputes to mediation.

The City Council is scheduled to debate Monday night whether to place a repeal or a modification of the binding-arbitration provision on the November ballot. The provision, which voters passed in 1978, empowers a three-member arbitration panel to settle labor disputes between city management and public-safety unions. The panel includes one neutral arbiter and a representative from each side.

The council's Finance Committee vetted both possible measures a repeal and a modification on Tuesday night and unanimously agreed to send them to the full council for consideration.

The committee also agreed to send to the council an ordinance that would institute a new mediation requirement for labor disputes. Under the proposed ordinance, the mediation process could only be avoided if both sides agree to bypass it.

The committee voted 3-1, with Gail Price dissenting, to send the mediation ordinance to the full council for consideration. Price said creating the mediation process is premature given that binding arbitration is still in the charter.

But the other three committee members, Pat Burt, Larry Klein and Karen Holman, agreed that the ordinance demonstrates the city's intent to deal fairly with its unions, even if binding arbitration is repealed.

"If we go ahead and adopt it, it shows good faith as to what we intend," Holman said.

The mediation requirement would only take effect if the voters repeal the binding-arbitration requirement.

The city and the unions already have the option of going to mediation, though the process is not required. Klein said the new ordinance, if approved, would send a message to all bargaining units that mediation is "no longer a chess piece for bargaining."

The council has been considering repealing the ordinance since last summer. Last year, a proposal by Councilman Greg Scharff and Councilwoman Karen Holman to repeal the provision fell by a 4-5 vote.

The City Council discussed a possible repeal of the provision last month but did not reach a decision.

The changes reviewed by the committee Tuesday include requiring the arbitrators to consider the city's finances when making a decision; limiting the arbitrators' scope to compensation issues; and requiring the neutral arbitrator to be an attorney who is licensed in California.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2011 at 8:38 am

So, what is the effective difference between "binding-arbitration" and "mediation"?


Posted by Frank, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 13, 2011 at 9:28 am

Mediation is merely a process by which a neutral third party meets with both parties and tries to facilitate a resolution. The mediator does not have any authority to impose a resolution. So, if in the end, the mediator cannot cajole the two sides into an agreement, no resolution occurs.

Binding arbitration is a more formal process by which a neutral third party (or a panel) listen to arguments by both sides and review documents, then impose a legally-binding decision that both sides must live with.


Posted by Jane, a resident of University South
on Jul 13, 2011 at 10:25 am

That's a fair description, Frank.
A mediator does not impose, period.
It's the two parties who try to make the other party understand their situation and then decide whether they can agree to some course of action. A good mediator facilitates that process and can usually accomplish progress.


Posted by A Noun Ea Mus, a resident of Professorville
on Jul 13, 2011 at 12:05 pm

As regards this....

"The changes reviewed by the committee Tuesday include requiring the arbitrators to consider the city's finances when making a decision; limiting the arbitrators' scope to compensation issues; and requiring the neutral arbitrator to be an attorney who is licensed in California and is a member of the National Academy of Arbitrators."

So it's my understanding that the above is IF the council decides to stick with the current binding arbitration, just with the above changes. But this doesn't pass a smell test. So imagine you're a professional arbitrator and a member of the National Academy of Arbitrators. Can you imagine being there at an impasse and not considering the city's finances (or does this mean buy into the city's interpretation of such?---one which can easily be spun). Or hearing of some truly outlandish work-related issues, but being limited to "compensation issues" only? And as far as the qualifications....what was done before to find an arbitrator? Did someone just go down to Lytton Park and find someone sitting on a bench?


Posted by senor blogger, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 13, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Frank is right.
Both options are meaningless and cop- outs by the council;.
If they can't decide, let the citizens of palo alto decide. It's our city and we pay the bills.


Posted by Sam, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 13, 2011 at 1:55 pm

As long as police and fire fighters are prohibited from striking then the only reasonable answer is for the charter to be upheld. If the charter provision for arbitration is removed, mediation is not a viable substitute for arbitration and I do not believe that the city of Palo Alto has the authority to grant police and fire the right to strike.

Those of us in the city who stand with the police and firefighters strongly oppose diluting the rights of our first responders.


Posted by employed, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jul 13, 2011 at 2:12 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Frank, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 13, 2011 at 4:20 pm

My description of the two terms above was not meant to convey a negative opinion about either method of dispute resolution.

A good mediator can often help to achieve an expeditious outcome that both parties can live with. They just can't force one.

As for arbitration, the city's charter presently DOES instruct an arbitrator to consider the city's "ability to pay" in determining what is a fair deal. The council's present debate is really about how to refine what factors should be considered in evaluating that "ability to pay". For example, should it be about the present budget cycle or a more long term approach?

As for the qualifications of the arbitrator, generally, the panel members are trained arbitrators with knowledge of the given industry. In this case, the council's concern -- I think -- comes from the Fire Department choosing its own union president as a panel member. Doing that defeats the purpose of having a neutral panel and Fire Department should be ashamed of itself.

With all that said I think both the Police Dept and the Fire Dept deserve some sort of dispute resolution process. And, since they are legally prohibited from striking, mediation or arbitration seem fair alternatives.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2011 at 4:56 pm

> I think both the Police Dept and the Fire Dept deserve some
> sort of dispute resolution process

Every City employee walks in the door every day with his/her "dispute resolution process"--his/her feet. If they don't like "the deal", then they can move on to another job. If enough of them leave, then the City will get the message, and conduct its affairs accordingly.

> City's ability to pay ..

The flaw in this ointment is that there currently are no caps for the salaries of public employees. There whole idea of "intrinsic value" of a job has gotten lost in the parallel job market that has developed for the public sector. The City should have a right to say (like any employer), you are asking too much for this position--we are going to go to the private sector. There should be no laws in place that say: "No, we are in a labor union. You can't fire us, you can't replace us--we call the shots here, not you!"

There is no reason to replace arbitration with mediation. When contract negotiations break down--so what? As long as the City continues to pay their salaries and benefits--then they don't have a real complaint. This does open the door to the City's downsizing, or reducing salaries, during an inter-contract gap. But that is something that goes on in the real world, so the public sector should not expect to be immune from the same economic forces that govern the rest of us.


Posted by bill reller, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 13, 2011 at 5:32 pm

binding arbitration should be repealed.


Posted by A Noun Ea Mus, a resident of Professorville
on Jul 13, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Thank you Frank. I appreciate your input on this issue. Now, bending a bit to my political bent,.....

"As for arbitration, the city's charter presently DOES instruct an arbitrator to consider the city's "ability to pay" in determining what is a fair deal. The council's present debate is really about how to refine what factors should be considered in evaluating that "ability to pay". For example, should it be about the present budget cycle or a more long term approach?"

As if the City Council is entertaining a resolution..."if a patient arrives in an ER with an obvious severe chest contusion an CXR, yea even a CT, will be ordered expeditiously!"........For otherwise I am shocked, SHOCKED, that gambling is occurring on these premises ("you winnings sire" courtesy of Casa Blanca)...

And does the "long term" approach engender the "race to the bottom" where firefighters in Palo Alto should be compared with response times in Mumbai? Seriously folks, "long term" is a big kettle and with the current political/economic turmoil "what's an arbitrator, even a mediator, to do?". Only their ideological hairdresser knows for sure.

What this shows to me is that some of the City Council have been playing a rear guard defense...bowing to attacks on labor and working people....when in fact the current world-wide drift or free-fall is re-writing everyday the very essence and meaning of "long term".

Go Wisconsin!

But, back to the previous poster of some very serious appreciation and pondering....

"As for the qualifications of the arbitrator, generally, the panel members are trained arbitrators with knowledge of the given industry. In this case, the council's concern -- I think -- comes from the Fire Department choosing its own union president as a panel member. Doing that defeats the purpose of having a neutral panel and Fire Department should be ashamed of itself.

With all that said I think both the Police Dept and the Fire Dept deserve some sort of dispute resolution process. And, since they are legally prohibited from striking, mediation or arbitration seem fair alternatives. "

So OK ya got me wondering about the Fire Dept Union President being on the board. But come on....I'll bet 2:1 odds (but a token amount to most heh heh) that there is also another panel member whose basic economic/political/career/job description should raise the same concerns.

But, appreciating more insightful and discretionary input, how can there be an agreement which engenders both no-strike and binding arbitration.

Seriously folks can't be considering getting away with both binding arbitration AND the right to strike? Or hoping for one?

Over-reach AWAY. How's that working for ya?


Posted by A Noun Ea Mus, a resident of Professorville
on Jul 13, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Oops, meant to say...how can there be an agreement which still mandates "no strike" yet also removes binding arbitration? Imagine the shoe on the other foot (and rest assured this image comforts me on a cold and dreary night)...a law for BOTH binding arbitration AND the right of the union to strike if the results of binding arbitration were not to it's members and unions liking.

How ya like them apples.


Posted by Tim, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 15, 2011 at 8:07 am

I rather see mediation on the city charter than binding arbitration. Less than 5% of the cities in California have binding arbitration. It seems to work for the city and the unions.


Posted by A Noun Ea Mus, a resident of Professorville
on Jul 15, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Is what is being proposed....

Getting rid of arbitration AND the sanction against any strike?

If so then it seems a bit "unfair"....just as if the firefighters had both the benefit of binding arbitration AND the right to strike if the decision of the arbitrator(s) was voted down. As much as a dream of mine I must acknowledge a certain structural unfairness. As Frank seems to agree with---even if he and I are distanced on basic stance.

OR

Getting rid of arbitration and keeping the option of a strike?

If so then it seems that the real goal is to then force a "get firefighters for the same price as day-laborer's out of the Home Depot parking lot (hmmm sweet market forces) and force a strike in order to break the unionization.

If the above then it would be nice to see the gravitas in evidence. But of course that is not "the Stanford Way".

Spill-over styles are interesting.

Meanwhile pandering to the most despicable of "human nature" seems to be the operant mode