Firefighters withdraw challenge to ballot measure

Union also asks labor-relations board not to rule on 'unfair pratice charge' against city -- for now

Palo Alto firefighters have withdrawn their challenge to a ballot measure that would strike the binding-arbitration provision from the City Charter, city and union officials said Monday.

The firefighters filed a complaint with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) on Aug. 1 seeking an injunction that would stop the labor-reform measure from appearing on the November ballot. If the voters pass the measure, contract disputes between the city and its public-safety unions would no longer be required to go to arbitration.

The council voted 5-4 last month to put the measure on the ballot after debating the issue for more than a year.

In its complaint, the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1319, argued that the city violated a state labor law by not conferring with the union before placing the measure on the ballot. The city responded by arguing that binding arbitration is not subject to a "meet and confer" requirement with unions.

Representatives from the union and from city management got together for a settlement conference on Aug. 4 to discuss the union's complaint. They have scheduled another meeting for Sept. 13 in PERB's Oakland office.

Meanwhile, the union has withdrawn its request for an injunction and asked the labor board not to take any action on the "unfair practice charge" until the second meeting takes place, according to a letter from the union's lawyer, Duane W. Reno.

Tony Spitaleri, president of the firefighters union, told the Weekly that the union decided to pull back its complaint pending further conversation with the city. It has also asked the labor-relations board to hold the unfair practice "in abeyance," which means it would remain in the court system but no action would be taken on it until a later date.

"We're still just having an ongoing discussion with them," Spitaleri said Monday, referring to the city's negotiators.

The union and the city are wrangling over the ballot measure at a time when the two sides remain in a prolonged and bitter standoff over a new contract. Their labor dispute, which began in spring 2010, is scheduled to go to binding arbitration in the fall and winter.

The binding-arbitration provision, which voters adopted in 1978, empowers a three-member panel to settle disputes between the city and its police and fire unions. Palo Alto is one of 22 cities in California that currently have such a requirement. Vallejo and Stockton have recently scrapped their respective binding-arbitration requirements and San Luis Obispo voters are scheduled to consider the issue in a mail-in election later this month.

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Like this comment
Posted by John Lee
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 8, 2011 at 10:22 am

Once again, Palo Alto firefighters show they are more interested in protecting their bloated pay and benefits than protecting the public.

Like this comment
Posted by patsayjax
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 8, 2011 at 11:12 am

How so John Lee?
They just withdrew the challenge the set forth last week.
this is a step in the right direction. Now they just need to replace there current union reps. Time to get someone who knows how to better deal with the firemen's needs, and the needs of the city, in our curen economy

Like this comment
Posted by svatoid
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 8, 2011 at 11:23 am

Now if only Tony Spitaleri will step down as union head, we may make some progress on this issue.

Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 8, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Kenny Logins?

"... you got to know when to fold 'em,

Like this comment
Posted by Don
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 8, 2011 at 1:11 pm

It's about time Mr. Spitaleri realizes how much damage he's done to the credibility of the fire fighter's rank and file. The defeat of Proposition R by such a wide margin should have been a wake up call.

But Mr. Spitaleri is not known for acuity, rather more for bull headed stubbornness.

Like this comment
Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2011 at 1:52 pm

You gotta wonder, if the fire department is so focused on their benefits and protecting themselves, how much are they going to care about us when fires are blazing? Our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan put themselves in harm's way on a daily basis, far more than the PAFD; but make far less in salary and benefits. Who deserves our largesse?

Like this comment
Posted by Maria
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 8, 2011 at 2:29 pm

This shouldn't have ever been contested in the first place. Shame on the fire union for trying to restrain democracy.

Soldier pay should be used as a hard cap on firefighter pay. Firefighters are overpaid by at least 2X, probably closer to 3X when the ridiculous pensions are factored in.

Like this comment
Posted by Budget Reader
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 8, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Maria: nah. The Palo Alto firefighters are overpaid, but not by that much. The right comparison to make is with other towns in the area, which pay well, but not quite as much as Palo Alto pays: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by momofthreeno?
a resident of Monroe Park
on Aug 8, 2011 at 3:42 pm

you mean they want 1 or 2 X the average?

Like this comment
Posted by Maria
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 8, 2011 at 6:03 pm

I didn't mean 2X-3X overpaid relative to their also-overpaid neighboring departments. I meant overpaid by 2X-3X relative to what the market dictates they are worth. Lower the pay by half and trim the outlandish benefits, and you'll still have hundreds of applicants willing to do the job. That is how the market speaks.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 8, 2011 at 6:12 pm

If PA safety workers were paid at the market rate they would make $50-$60K annually. When you factor in all the benefits and pensions they average well over $200K. They are paid 3-4 times what they are worth. On top of all this excessive pay, they do very little work and are way over staffed. Plus they get to retire at 50. It is an amazing scam and we have let them get away with it. The fire unions are the worst offenders but this same pattern is trus of almost all government workers. There are solutions but the #1 factor that has to change is that voters have to become informed. Then we need to vote out the politicians who do the legwork for the unions. In PA's case the #1 culprit is Price.

Step #1 - Remove binding arbitration.

Like this comment
Posted by contract
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 8, 2011 at 7:27 pm

A contract(binding arbitration) is a contract,it governs our words or promises,even if it is just oral.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 9, 2011 at 10:17 pm

Public sector employee unions love to negotiate pay scales "competitive" with other Bay Area public sector employee groups. The unions play one community off against all others, escalating pay and benefit packages ever higher year after year.

After decades, of course, public sector pay and benefit levels now significantly exceed private sector compensation. Proof positive: each time a City of Palo Alto job opening is posted, the applicant line stretches around the block.

This pattern must change, or city services will continue to shrink and maintenance will be deferred while more and more local tax dollars go to pay exorbitant benefits racked up years earlier.

One step along the compensation and staffing reform path is for Palo Alto voters to repeal binding arbitration, something the fire union is fighting hard on multiple fronts to avoid.

So, for the next 3 months, it not the firefighters' union (or more accurately the ambulance drivers' union), it is the Repeal Fighters' Union. Unions will pour heavy money into this campaign attempting to stop the repeal of binding arbitration.

With your active participation, their effort will go up in flames just like their featherbedding Measure R last year, 75% of Palo Altans voted NO. Local involvement will be essential to repeal binding arbitration this November. It will not be wise to sit on the sidelines and leave this fight up to others. Your tax dollars are at risk.

Like this comment
Posted by steve
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 10, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Mr. mention that the troops in Iraq should be paid more then the ff's because they sacrafice more then the ff's in Palo Alto. What does the council risk over four years to earn lifetime benefits?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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