With contract negotiations stalling, Palo Alto firefighters are calling on the city to enlist a mediator to nudge the two sides toward an agreement.
The union's contract expired in May 2010 and the two sides have remained at a standoff since then, with the city declaring an impasse in February. The negotiations are expected to go to binding arbitration in the fall.
Tony Spitaleri, president of Palo Alto Professional Firefighters, Local 1319, said the union decided to request mediation after the city rejected its latest offer -- one that Spitaleri said included $3.1 million in concessions. Spitaleri said in a statement that the firefighters' offer includes a 4 percent wage decrease for firefighters and engineers and a 5 percent decrease for captains and fire inspectors.
He said the firefighters also offered to pay 10 percent of their health insurance premiums (the city currently pays the entire premium) and proposed revisions to the pension formula for new hires. He estimated that the structural changes would save the city about $1.7 million, while the wage decrease would save another $1.4 million.
"In the wake of the city rejecting our contract proposal worth $3.1 million in givebacks, we have asked the city to enter into mediation," Spitaleri said in the statement. "We think that the $3.1 million package in wages, health care, and pension cuts that our fire fighters have offered to the city to help balance the city's budget is a generous one."
The union's mediation proposal comes at a time when the City Council is considering major changes to the city's process for settling labor disputes with its public-safety unions. Under existing law, disputes are settled through binding arbitration. The council is now considering drafting a ballot measure that would change or eliminate this provision. The council's Policy and Services Committee is scheduled to discuss the possible ballot measure Tuesday night.
The firefighters union has consistently opposed efforts to repeal the binding-arbitration provision, though Spitaleri indicated Monday night that it would support making some changes to the existing law. He proposed at Monday's council meeting that the city form a stakeholders group to consider modifications.
"Given the current debate around modifying binding arbitration, the Fire Fighters are showing good faith by asking the city for mediation as an alternative means of dispute resolution rather than going directly to binding arbitration, which is our right under the city charter," Spitaleri said in the statement.
The city's 2012 budget, which the council adopted Monday night, assumes $4.3 million in concessions from police and firefighter unions.