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.
"The basic concept I approve of -- I just think this is out of sequence," Price said about the mediation requirement.
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agreed that the ordinance demonstrates the city's intent to deal fairly with its unions, even if binding arbitration is repealed.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.
Under the committee's motion, 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, with several members arguing that the law strips Palo Alto's elected officials of their duties to balance the budget. Last year, a proposal by Councilman Greg Scharff and Councilwoman Karen Holman to repeal the provision fell by a 4-5 vote, with several council members saying they need more time and information before they could make a decision.
Last month, the City Council discussed a possible repeal of the provision but did not reach a decision. Though Scharff and Holman continued to call for a repeal, most council members said they would favor modifications.
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.