http://paloaltoonline.com/print/story/print/2011/09/23/firefighters-drive-to-kill-ballot-measure-rejected


Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 23, 2011

Firefighters' drive to kill ballot measure rejected

State board decides union didn't have sufficient grounds for injunction blocking Measure D

by Gennady Sheyner

An attempt by Palo Alto's firefighters union to keep a labor-reform measure off the November ballot hit a wall last week, when a state labor-relations board rejected the union's request for an injunction.

The International Fire Fighters Association, Local 1319, was seeking an injunction that would have blocked a Palo Alto ballot measure repealing binding arbitration from the City Charter. The city's binding-arbitration provision, which voters adopted in 1978, allows a three-member panel to settle labor disputes between the city and its public-safety unions. The City Council voted 5-4 in July to place the item on the November ballot after more than a year of debate.

In its request to block Measure D, the union argued that the city failed to consult the unions in good faith when considering a new mechanism for reviewing disputes. The firefighters union also filed an "unfair practice charge" against the city with the Public Employment Relations Board charging the City Council with depriving the union of their "meet-and-consult" rights.

City Attorney Molly Stump argued that state law does not require the city to consult the unions on the issue of binding arbitration. The board upheld the view and found that the union didn't have sufficient grounds for an injunction.

While the board has yet to rule on the unfair labor charge the hearings are scheduled for later this month it notified the city this week that it has rejected the union's request for an injunction.

"By direction of the Board, the request for injunctive relief in the above-entitled matter is denied without prejudice, sufficient grounds therefore not having been demonstrated," the board's General Counsel Suzanne Murphy wrote in a Sept. 15 letter to the two parties.

The board's rejection of the union request paves the way for what promises to be a heated public-relations battle in the month and a half leading up to the election. The firefighters have been equating the city's attempt to kill the binding-arbitration provision in the City Charter to recent efforts by Republican legislators in Ohio and Wisconsin to curb the collective-bargaining rights of their respective state employees.

Proponents of the ballot measure argue that the existing law keeps the council from fulfilling its budget-balancing duties.

Board officials will consider the unfair labor charge on Sept. 26 and Sept. 30.

Measure D is one of two items city voters will be asked to consider on Nov. 8. They will also be asked to vote on Measure E, which would "undedicate" a 10-acre portion of Byxbee Park and make it eligible for a new waste-to-energy facility.

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

Comments

Posted by squirrelsaresoft, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Very interested to see measure D on the ballot and how the public reacts?
I think the palo alto fire department is going to be in for a surprise when the vast majority vote for D


Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Yeah. How to go from Hero to Goat in 3 easy steps.


Posted by Two cents, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 19, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Measure D protects police too. Why are they grouping police and fire together? How about a seperate measure for police and fire so if people have an axe to grind with the fire department they can do it without hurting the cops.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Sep 19, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Binding arbitration is a big problem because it removes decision making from elected officials who are accountable to the citizens and gives that decision making authority to an unelected, unknown, unaccountable person.

Biding arbitration is binding and an arbitrator could require the city to agree to a settlement even if that settlement could bankrupt the city.

98% of the public safety workers in California do NOT have binding arbitration.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 19, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Binding arbitration is bad policy. The elected CPA representatives need to be allowed to make budget decisions without interferences from outside interests. So repealing binding arbitration from the city charter is up for a vote.

The fact theat the PAPD is well regarded while the PAFD is looked at as inefficient and over compensated is a separate issue. The operational and budgeting problems of the PAFD will be addressed separately from the management of the PAPD (once binding arbitration is removed from the charter).


Posted by all hype, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 19, 2011 at 10:03 pm

This is all political hype by the council and city, preying on public sentiment to break unions. Binding arbitration has not been utilized in our town for about 20 years.....

Binding arbitration has been described as giving "decision making authority to an unelected, unknown, unaccountable person." but leaves out, fair, objective and impartial. (the reason it was created in the first place)

this is a non-issue. The city council has plenty of other powers than can be used to curb budget problems.


Posted by Ernesto USMC, a resident of Ventura
on Sep 19, 2011 at 10:47 pm

"this is a non-issue. The city council has plenty of other powers than can be used to curb budget problems."

Sure, there are plenty of other ways besides Measure D to fix the budget. Raising taxes and/or fees on the public, cutting funding for roads, parks, schools, development, and infrastructure are all viable options that will allow us to continue to overpay the bureaucracy's best connected special interests (the fire union).

This is long overdue. Yes on D.


Posted by George, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 20, 2011 at 12:16 am

Enough is enough. YES on Measure D to repeal binding arbitration.

Over the past 30 years the Palo Alto binding arbitration requirement has added up to:

Average wages for firemen of more than $140,000 per year and total compensation of $205,000

100% medical coverage for life, including dependents

Pensions that are 90% of their highest year's salary with eligibility to retire at age 50

Staffing rules that require the same number of firefighters on duty 24 hours a day regardless of need

The fire union has used binding arbitration as a club to have their way with us. Union leadership has consistently proven to lack credibility, be self-serving, and greedy. Remember featherbedding Measure R the fire union tried to scare us into last year? 75% of Palo Alto voters said NO WAY.

It is time to send the fire union an unmistakable message that Palo Alto voters can't be bamboozled anymore.

YES on Measure D will enable city management and council to fairly manage employment pay and benefits for public safety employees.


Posted by so then, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2011 at 12:44 am

"Binding arbitration has not been utilized in our town for about 20 years"

so then terminating it should not be a problem. Since its obsolete, eliminating it should do no harm.


Posted by danos, a resident of another community
on Sep 20, 2011 at 9:57 am

San Carlos Fire received 500 firefighter applications for open positions within an hour and a half:

Web Link

Clearly there is no shortage of people looking to become firefighters. Which means there is absolutely no need to offer exorbitant salaries and benefits.


Posted by PA Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2011 at 10:16 am

The Police are between a rock and a hard place here, but it is most important to them to maintain good relations with the community they serve.

The Police have been under a pay freeze for two years now, this cannot go on forever, They are banking on cooperation as being a better tool for future financial improvement. We should support our Police Department by giving them pay raises during the next round of negotiations.

Meanwhile, the number of Police Officers has been cut. Cutting the number of firefighters required to be on duty at all times should also be cut.


Posted by Jon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2011 at 10:16 am

I feel a bit sorry for the police association. If there could be a separate arbitration for the police, I'd think about voting to leave that in


Posted by nosorry, a resident of Southgate
on Sep 20, 2011 at 10:18 am

They are foxes and wolfs,same.


Posted by Timothy Gray, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 20, 2011 at 10:45 am

This is the second recent effort by the firefighters that has had nothing to do with public safety, and everything to do with greed and preservation of privilege.

In baseball, three strikes and you are OUT sourced.

Firefighters will recognize that they have a very generous situation and cooperate with the Council in trying to righ-size our City's bloated expenditures.

Respectfully,

Tim Gray


Posted by Alice Smith, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 20, 2011 at 12:21 pm

This ballot measure is a mistake. I think that with no right to strike and therefore an unfair advantage to the City Council, we will be losing good firefighters and police because of this Wisconsin-like swing of the City Council. We need collective bargaining and we need good police.

I am quite dismayed by this ballot measure. I don't think it promotes fair or good government.


Posted by senor blogger, a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 20, 2011 at 12:23 pm

the Fire union seems to be thumbing their nose at the Council and the public.
Senor blogger


Posted by Michael, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 20, 2011 at 1:11 pm

The self-serving fire union would like us to believe that it's not possible to attract and retain a firefighter to work two 24 hour shifts per week with plenty of paid sleep time and paid "standby" time for less than 150K per year and 110K per year for life starting at age 50 (+ Cost of living bumps). As a taxpayer who works hard to pay their salaries, I call BS. They should make not a penny more than a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan, who, using firefighter math, work 7 24 hour shifts per week, and face infinitely more danger than a PA firefighter who responds to 98% simple medical calls and 2% anything fire related.

Yes on D! It's time to stop this special interest union from raiding our pockets any longer.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 20, 2011 at 1:27 pm

@ Michael. I am for voting on the proposition. However, I find your insertion of the military into the argument as way over the top.

Using your logic, any office worker, carpenter, etc. should make less than our military since they face nowhere near the dangers that the military or firefighters face.

Salary and benefits reform is necessary for our governments to survive. Vilifying hard working people, who do face life threatening risks (no matter the percentage) comes across as ungrateful, spiteful and ignorant.

You can advocate reforming the system without hurling insults. And you might find that more people will accept your viewpoint if you leave the personal rhetoric behind.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 20, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Michael,

Contrary to the comments by "Crescent Park Dad" I completely share your sentiments. It is the ff union that has been "ungrateful, spiteful and ignorant." It is time the voters sent them a clear message.

The example you cited of the San Carlos FD applications is the relevant part of your post that was conveniently ignored. The demand for ff openings is excessive because the pay is exorbitant. It is way past time to fix this problem. The first step is to vote YES on D!


Posted by George, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 20, 2011 at 2:20 pm

YES on Measure D.

Don't lose sight of the fact that only the fire union is trying to save binding arbitration. The reason: it creates an unfair advantage for them over all other city employee union members.

When the fire union wins, everyone else loses.

Over the past three years all employee groups, except public safety unions, have worked with the city to adopt new compensation agreements. Palo Alto has achieved reductions in future medical expenses, increased employee's share of retirement costs, reduced excessive holidays and reformed retirement packages for new employees.

Because of binding arbitration, fire and police unions have been able to resist these reforms. They count on an outside arbiter to provide better terms than the City's best offer and they are using this tool to delay decisions for years, causing other workers to unfairly bear the burden of balancing Palo Alto budgets.

YES on Measure D to repeal binding arbitration.


Posted by Anna, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 20, 2011 at 3:01 pm

I think military is a fair comparison because the fire union and it's supporters cite the risk of the job as a primary justification for their current huge benefits, compensation, and pension packages. The multiplier that firefighters get over military members appears appears extremely glaring and illustrates the fallacy of the fire union's logic, and also brings things into perspective when the firefighters play the "hero card."

Office workers, in contrast, dont often claim to command a danger premium. If any ever wishes to do so then the military comparison would likewise be a fair one to make.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Sep 20, 2011 at 4:38 pm

There are a lot of important and risky public servant jobs that pay far less than what Palo Alto firefighters and police are paid

Here are a few such comparisons:

1 - The pilot of Air Force One is a USAF Colonel usually with 20-25 years of service.

His base pay is $11,007.30/month or $132,087 /year

He also receives about $500/month or $6000/year of flight pay

He supervises a crew of approximately 26 (not including the Secret Service agents accompanying the President).

He can retire with 2.5% of the average of his last three years base pay for each year of service but capped at 75%.

2 - a US Forest Service Smokejumper (a firefighter who parachutes from airplanes to put out forest fires) are in GS-5 to GS-9 pay grades and start as $27,026/year and top out at $53,234/year at the top step level for non- supervisory (includes crew chiefs but not management level) smokejumpers

MEDICAL AND PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS: Smokejumper duties present unusual hazards and require that personnel be in excellent physical condition and possess a high degree of emotional stability and mental alertness. The health of individuals must be such that they have the capacity to meet demands for performance in the position and for human reliability. Before entrance on duty, and periodically during employment, smokejumpers must undergo a medical exam, physical conditioning, and an adeptness test. Failure to meet any of the required standards will be considered disqualifying for employment or a basis of termination. The adeptness test will be given in one time period and consists of performing 25 push-ups, 45 sit-ups, 7 chin-ups, and a 1.5-mile run which must be completed in 11 minutes or less. In addition to the work capacity test at the arduous level (as referenced under Other Significant Facts), a smokejumper pack-out test is required and consists of completing a 3-mile hike over level ground carrying a 110 pound pack in 90 minutes or less. The health of individuals must be such that they have the capacity to meet the demands for human reliability and performance in the position.

3 -Maj. Jennifer Grieves is the first female helicopter aircraft commander in the history of Marine One, the HMX-1 helicopter the president of the United States flies on. She makes about $84,000 and she can retire with 2.5% of the average of her last three years base pay for each year of service but capped at 75%.

4 - NASA's civilian astronauts are in the GS-11 through GS-14 pay grades, based on academic achievements and experience. Currently, a GS-11 astronaut starts at $59,493 per year; a GS-14 astronaut can earn up to $130,257 per year. To date 13 out of 321 who have flown in space have died in the line of duty or a fatality rate of about 4%.


Posted by hype, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 20, 2011 at 4:46 pm

This military argument is the dumbest one I have ever heard. At least I can understand, although not agree with other people's viewpoints other than mine posted here, but equating public safety to the military is apples to oranges, and just plain stupid.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Sep 20, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Hype - what about smokejumpers who are paid a fraction of what our local public safety employees are paid.


Posted by George, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 20, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Fire emergencies make up less than 2% of all Palo Alto 'fire' calls. 98% of calls are for medical emergencies or for response to accident scenes.

Over the years, improved fire and building codes have greatly reduced fire emergencies.

Mutual aid agreements between cities and counties today provide robust fire coverage in our area. A few well-located ambulance garages could cover our emergency medical needs much better, and more economically, than today.

Palo Alto emergency services should be right-sized and compensated for these new realities. YES on Measure D will help us get there.


Posted by Phillips C, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 20, 2011 at 6:44 pm

There will be a great deal of mis-information spread on this campaign and I expect most of it to come from the unions. The fact is that only the Palo Alto public safety employees have binding arb priviledges. No other city employee unions have it. Binding arb always seems to result in inequality for employees because city councils seem to always get the wrong end when conflicts go to binding arb. Even the threat of binding arb results in these wacky comp, benefit and pension packages, not to mention silly things like minimum staffing requirements, vacation and sicks days (look into that one...you'll be appalled). So, when the city takes a hit on revenue in bad economic times, everyone chips in and compromises, except the fire union. Why? Well, they sit on binding arb and want to play chicken...with your taxpayer money!!! No, this is our chance to wise up and get fire and police in line with all other employees. I'm going to vote for Measure D and hope all my freinds and neightbors do too. Gimme a lawn sign!


Posted by phillips c, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 20, 2011 at 6:48 pm

$204,939

That's the avergae total salary and benefit for a Palo Alto IAFF employee.

Where can I apply?


Posted by john, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 20, 2011 at 7:52 pm

has anyone brought up the fact that firemen usually have side businesses which because of the unusual work schedule allows them considerable additional income probably exceeding the fireman pay. Further has anyone discussed the scandalous number of young firemen who retire on tax-free disablility pay for decades. diana diamond mentioned it once in a story.....no more binding arbitration, please.


Posted by ugh, a resident of another community
on Sep 20, 2011 at 8:12 pm

so palo alto has not figured out how to balance a budget without striping employees of their salaries, benefits, and dignity. ho-hummm. At least the firefighter's union is backing their employees, nothing like SEIU that works with the city to give up salaries and benefits.


Posted by Oldbasse, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2011 at 8:25 pm

So far, the local firefighters union is taking another powerful hit by P.A. taxpayers. Why don't the gentle ladies and men in the fire department just finally get it and get rid of Mr. Spitali (sp?) as their union leader. He is clearly ineffective, and perhaps even incompetent, in his understanding of the realities of today's situation.

Most of the working members of P.A. Fire Department, whom I have met, are professionally capable and decent individuals. However, they are vastly overpaid and underworked -- facts that I believe most of them recognize. The free-bee party is now over.

Let's stop the mindless codling and vote YES on D.

And, Peter Carpenter, thank you for your usual, fact-based contributions. Please soldier on!


Posted by Henry, a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 21, 2011 at 12:20 am

I totally agree the above post by Oldbasse, most of US public sector is vastly over-paid and under-worked. YES on Measure D will a good start.




Posted by Henry, a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 21, 2011 at 12:28 am

Some mentioned risk to justify the higher pay of firefighters, I don't think that's fair argument, if San Carlos fire department can get 500 + application within one and half hours, that means this sector is over-conpensated. Even in this economy, I think most of private companies can't get that many interests.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Sep 22, 2011 at 12:30 pm

The U.S. Census Bureau states that the mean family income in Santa Clara County in 2010 was $85,002. How does that compare to the single salary incomes of our local public servants?


Posted by Aaron, a resident of another community
on Sep 22, 2011 at 1:58 pm

After Nov, a 10% pay cut for all firefighters. And that's only the start!


Posted by Robert, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 22, 2011 at 4:43 pm

I am reading Tom Friedman's "That Used to Be Us".

page 274: "California's public employee's unions are particularly adept at winning benefits for their members: a Sacramento fire-truck driver earns a salary of $144,000 per year in a county where the average annual wage is $52,000."

page 20: "Vallejo, California, declared bankruptcy in May 2008, was devoting 80% of its budget to salaries and benefits for its unionized policemen, firefighters and other public safety officials."

These heroes are making paupers of us. Does anyone know the date of Palo Alto coming bankrupcy?


Posted by Huynh, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 23, 2011 at 1:11 am

We need to pass this measure and then elect leaders who will crack down hard on the hugely bloated public sector, especially fire salaries and switch them to defined contribution pension plans. Few will give up the gig of being a PA firefighter, even at the newly realistic market rate compensation, and if they do there will be hundreds waiting to take their place.

20 members of SEAL Team 6 were recently killed in Afghanistan. The job of PA firefighter, in contrast, is so fraught with danger that a total of zero have ever been killed in the line of duty, and yet the PA FF makes about 4X more than a SEAL.

I don't think my stomach can handle the coming propaganda campaign with the union's usual threats and self-proclaimed cries of "HERO!"


Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside
on Sep 24, 2011 at 10:05 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by trust, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 24, 2011 at 10:46 am

breach of trust,nothing,no feeling will remain.


Posted by Just the Facts, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2011 at 11:10 am

The firefighters who have retired on disability from Palo Alto before age 50 have faced a lifetime of living on far less than half of what they made while working, and their injuries typically include fused vertebrae, knee or shoulder replacements and other life long impairments which severely limit their future opportunities for gainful employment.

While, as has been pointed out, the mortality rate is low, these men and women are for all intents and purposes professional athletes. But instead of ending the physical and emotional effort in their late 30's or early 40's they push themselves to the limit year after year, oftentimes until their heart or their body fails.

Despite popular opinion, very few Palo Alto firefighters have side jobs, because the City staffs a seasonal fire station and a 12 hour medic van using overtime to save on employee benefits. Fire fighters work so much overtime because the system is set up so that someone has to.

It is true that the market rate for firefighter salary is essentially zero, since the majority of firefighters in the US are volunteers. The volunteer model results in high turnover and increased property loss.

Communities like Palo Alto elect to compete for the best possible firefighters and minimize the hiring of new employees. An added benefit is that the public receives a paramedic response and transport service that is second to none in this country.

The firefighters took what was offered to them without going to arbitration over salary and benefits for 30 years. Keep in mind that the salary and benefits of those on the City side of the table went up just as fast, usually under the premise that they needed to "avoid compaction," meaning they could guarantee raises for themselves by giving raises to the firefighters. That is where the true conflict of interest lies.

The only real reason the firefighters headed for arbitration this year was over staffing, which like it or not directly effects public safety. If a fire station is browned out, it is no big deal, unless it is your heart that is stopped and your wife or husband is hysterically asking the dispatcher why it will be 5 minutes to get a paramedic there instead of 3.

The firefighters have already agreed to cuts in salary and benefits that will make the department sustainable in an era of lowered economic expectations. Ultimately they will not prevail on the staffing issue either. But they sure as hell are not going to give up, knowing that mathematically it is inevitable that some Palo Alto residents will either die or suffer life altering consequences as a result.

I agree with them that is is a matter of integrity to stand for the safety of those you are charged to protect, even if a few of them call you a criminal or question your honor and decency. Shame on all of you who use the anonymity of a blog to make despicable accusations about people who wouldn't think twice before giving their life to save yours. If you can't make a civil, reasoned argument, then maybe you should cast your eyes to a mirror if you wish to see a villain.


Posted by s.Coen, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 24, 2011 at 1:05 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by stick to the facts, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 24, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Just The Facts, please try to keep your facts straight:

"Fire fighters work so much overtime because the system is set up so that someone has to."
"The only real reason the firefighters headed for arbitration this year was over staffing"

Oh, really? So you're only working overtime because the system is set up for overtime. However, because it's so lucrative, you're not going to let it change!

500 applications in less than 3 hours...says it all. Bye, bye arbitration.


Posted by Tired of Overpaying, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 24, 2011 at 7:12 pm


The creators of economic growth and vitality, the private sector, can't afford to carry such a bloated, greedy public sector on its back anymore. Those who serve the public must be held to the same standards of accountability to efficiency and productivity that their private sector counterparts are. If there were 100 people lined up to do my job for half the pay, you'd better believe my pay will be headed down, not up. I also can't make unreasonable demands of my employer, with the threat of forcing him into an arbitrary third party binding negotiation.

These unions like the PA fire union are the biggest culprits. Not only do they buy/threaten politicians like a good old fashioned special interest, but they fight to decrease efficiency at the public's expense. Measure R was a good example, as was Tony Spitaleri dismissing the Santa Clara Civil Grand Jury's findings of inefficient waste due to firefighter overredundancy and overstaffing as "biased."


Posted by Ty, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Sep 24, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Yearly salary for PA Firefighter is $204,000 for working and sleeping 10 days a month! Can't wait till Nov!!


Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 26, 2011 at 11:39 am

Responses to "Just the Facts" are below:

"The firefighters who have retired on disability from Palo Alto before age 50 have faced a lifetime of living on far less than half of what they made while working, and their injuries typically include fused vertebrae, knee or shoulder replacements and other life long impairments which severely limit their future opportunities for gainful employment".
Post some facts instead of broad generalized, unsupported statements. Many of us have injuries as we get older. FF's jobs don't compare to many other professions for injury. The job tends to be sedentary. The biggest risk may be lack of activity.

"While, as has been pointed out, the mortality rate is low, these men and women are for all intents and purposes professional athletes. But instead of ending the physical and emotional effort in their late 30's or early 40's they push themselves to the limit year after year, oftentimes until their heart or their body fails".
The athlete comparison is ridiculous!!! A reasonable comparison would be truck drivers but with a lot less hours actually worked vs hanging around doing nothing. How about posting some facts about how many hours are actually spent on calls vs sleeping or hanging around the station?

"Despite popular opinion, very few Palo Alto firefighters have side jobs, because the City staffs a seasonal fire station and a 12 hour medic van using overtime to save on employee benefits. Fire fighters work so much overtime because the system is set up so that someone has to". They don't have side jobs because they are overcompensated and don't need the extra $'s. They spend their time off playing with the toys they purchase with their exorbitant compensation. The union contract forces the city to have excess ff staffing, even when they are not needed.

"It is true that the market rate for firefighter salary is essentially zero, since the majority of firefighters in the US are volunteers. The volunteer model results in high turnover and increased property loss". A volunteer FD is probably not right for PA. But we do want an FD that is staffed and compensated adequately. We do not want want to have 30+ union ff's sleeping away every night at a cost of over $200K per year, when PA has a fire approx every 3 days. Those days are going to end.

"Communities like Palo Alto elect to compete for the best possible firefighters and minimize the hiring of new employees. An added benefit is that the public receives a paramedic response and transport service that is second to none in this country." The reality is that PA ff's are competent, but we are overpaying due to union and politician collusion. We could have the same quality of service for less than 50% of the cost. If we didn't have so many ff's retiring at such an early age we would have fewer issues with hiring and training.

"The firefighters took what was offered to them without going to arbitration over salary and benefits for 30 years. Keep in mind that the salary and benefits of those on the City side of the table went up just as fast, usually under the premise that they needed to "avoid compaction," meaning they could guarantee raises for themselves by giving raises to the firefighters. That is where the true conflict of interest lies". If binding arbitration has not played a part in the excessive staffing and compensation, than you shouldn't mind seeing it end. I think you may be right that others on the city payroll are over-compensated and have excessive pensions. However I don't think the gardeners and librarian are costing on average $200K per year. Hopefully we can correct the whole payroll/pension problem. The ff costs are the most glaring and will be corrected first.

"The only real reason the firefighters headed for arbitration this year was over staffing, which like it or not directly effects public safety. If a fire station is browned out, it is no big deal, unless it is your heart that is stopped and your wife or husband is hysterically asking the dispatcher why it will be 5 minutes to get a paramedic there instead of 3." We are tired of the YOUR LIFE, YOUR FAMILY, scare tactics. How about sticking to the facts and showing some independent data response times?

"The firefighters have already agreed to cuts in salary and benefits that will make the department sustainable in an era of lowered economic expectations. Ultimately they will not prevail on the staffing issue either. But they sure as hell are not going to give up, knowing that mathematically it is inevitable that some Palo Alto residents will either die or suffer life altering consequences as a result." Sorry but I don't believe that Spitaleri or the union cares an iota about PA residents. It is all about money and power for Spitaleri and the unions.

"I agree with them that is is a matter of integrity to stand for the safety of those you are charged to protect, even if a few of them call you a criminal or question your honor and decency. Shame on all of you who use the anonymity of a blog to make despicable accusations about people who wouldn't think twice before giving their life to save yours. If you can't make a civil, reasoned argument, then maybe you should cast your eyes to a mirror if you wish to see a villain". If you don't like the anonymity of this blog, post your name, address & phone #. Do you realize how hypocritical your post sounds. I won't post personal info because I don't want a bunch of union militants stalking me and my family. I haven't heard any one calling ff's criminals but I guess it makes the "facts" in your post more real if you use hyperbole. If you don't feel comfortable working in PA, quit. There are hundreds of qualified candidates available to start work tomorrow for a reasonable salary. I would much rather have them on the payroll. And how do you know so much about how the PA ff's won't think twice about giving up their life. That sounds nutty. Has a PA ff ever lost his/her life in the line of duty? Stick to the facts!

Lots of changes need to be made so we don't pass unsustainable debts on to our children. The fire unions are going to have to deal with a new reality. Get used to the new reality!


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Sep 26, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Here are some newly released facts - the U.S.Census Bureau states that the annual mean FAMILY income in Santa Clara County in 2010 was $85,002.

Compare that to the income of PA firefighters for just one job and just one family member.


Posted by Ernesto USMC, a resident of Ventura
on Sep 26, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Comparing firefighters to professional athletes is an extreme overreach. Being a farmer, fisherman, construction worker, electrician, machinist, or any multitude of other jobs is more dangerous and physically demanding (The gap is even worse in military jobs, which are a better public sector comparison). Professional athletes are forced out of the job the second someone can do the job better or cheaper. Union firefighters are basically impossible to fire and collect bloated wages even though there are hundreds waiting to do their job for 1/2 what they make now.


Posted by 50 plus year resident, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 26, 2011 at 9:26 pm

At 8:50 PM on September 26, 2011 I saw at fire station 6 engines 1,2,3,4,5, Rescue, Paramedic, Squad, Ladder truck, and one other engine that could be engine 6 or 7. There was a meeting going on the bay floor. If having the fire department all at station 6 does not affect response time or the safety of the citizens then that means we only need one large station and the union is lying when they say otherwise. If it does affect safety and we need more then one station then the union is showing contempt for the citizens since there desire to have a meeting whiles being paid is more important then the safety of the people that they are paid to protect.