News

Unions urge Palo Alto to reconsider labor reform

Fire, police unions call on City Council to reconsider plan to place binding-arbitration repeal on November ballot

Palo Alto's three public-safety unions are calling on the City Council to rethink its plan to put a repeal of binding arbitration on the November ballot and to consider less dramatic changes to the controversial provision.

The provision, which empowers a three-member arbitration panel to settle labor disputes between the city and its fire and police unions, will be deleted from the City Charter if voters pass Measure D in November. The city's fire union, International Association of Firefighters, Local 1319, has vehemently opposed the repeal measure and has filed an "unfair labor practice" charge against the city with the state Public Employment Relations Board.

On Tuesday (Sept. 6), fire union President Tony Spitaleri asked the council to support a recommendation from the labor-relations board to hold discussions with the labor unions about amending the binding-arbitration provision. Though Spitaleri declined to comment on the specifics of the board's proposal, he said it involved renewed collaboration with the fire and police unions on revisions to the provision.

Speaking on behalf of the fire union and the city's two police unions, whose leaders were also in attendance, he called a proposal for the city to collaborate with the unions a "step in the right direction."

"It will give an opportunity to all groups to craft a modification to the binding-arbitration provision that we can probably all live with and support, and put it on the ballot," Spitaleri said at the beginning of the Tuesday meeting, just before the council went into a closed session to discuss the fire union's complaint against the city.

The council had considered modifying, rather than repealing, the provision but ultimately voted 5-4 to put the repeal on the ballot.

Removing the item from the ballot could, however, prove tricky, if not impossible, without litigation and court interference. The council placed the item in early August and the deadline for challenging it has long passed, City Clerk Donna Grider said.

"The way I've been told, once the deadline for elections has passed, and we passed it, and once the 10-day period for reviewing arguments passes, it can't be pulled back," Grider said.

The fire union's complaint with the labor-relations board claims the council acted unlawfully in agreeing to put the repeal of binding arbitration on the ballot without conferring with union officials. City officials have maintained that under California law, they have no obligation to confer with the unions about binding arbitration.

The union had since put its complaint in abeyance, which means the board will not act on it at least until the two sides meet again. The union had also withdrawn its request for an injunction that would keep the repeal off the November ballot.

The two sides are scheduled to meet with board representatives on Sept. 13.

Comments

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Posted by Arbitration-Must-Go
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2011 at 10:08 am

With the cost of labor doubling every 10-12 years for the Police and Fire Departments, the City is looking at base salaries close to $200K before the decade is out. With overtime and other benefits, the salaries of these people could well be in the $250K range (not to mention the cost of pension contributions and shortfalls that will require additional general fund money to fund).

The Council has absolutely no choice but to look at every avenue available to reduce costs in the coming years. This issue of "arbitration" is just a "stalking horse" for the real problem of uncapped salaries and linked pensions--driven by labor unions.

Out options include outsourcing as many of the City's functions as possible. Certainly operations like the Children's Zoo, the Children's Theater and the Art Center should be on the block. A category of "core/essential services" needs to be developed, followed by an list of the non-essential services that the City is currently providing. Shedding these non-essential services would be the first step. On top of that, a rigorous financial model needs to be developed for the costs of providing the core services, so that once the "easy fruit" has been removed from the City's expenses, then there will be a framework to make harder decisions in the future.

It's imperative that the Council move this decision to the voters, to get the ball rolling, and to make it clear that the City means business about creating a sustainable financial future.


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Posted by Ernesto USMC
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 7, 2011 at 10:32 am

The firefighters make more than double what the market would carry -- there would be lines around the block to fill those jobs if they pay were 60K plus a 401K (IE no defined-benefit pension on our children's backs). The 24 hour shifts ensure that there is a lot of paid time to sleep, eat, and lounge around the station, and have a second job on the numerous off days. The statistical danger of the job is lower than its ever been; far lower than Military, Police, or even construction or farm labor. Something like 98% of all calls are routine medical and have nothing to do with a fire.

Letting us vote on this is just a start. we need to take our future back from the privileged class of public "servant" who has raided the taxpayer trough.


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Posted by George
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 7, 2011 at 10:45 am

Yes on Measure D is coming whether the fire union likes it or not.

Fire union leader Tony Spitaleri brought this on himself last year when he ran feather-bedding Measure R up the Palo Alto flagpole. 75% of voters soundly rejected it.

How dumb do the public safety unions think we are?

They are the only unions who have demanded ever-higher wages and benefits over the past decade of recessions and roll-backs. Every other city union has worked with management and council to roll-back or postpone wage and benefit increases. Not the fire union.

The fire union has used the binding arbitration provision in our city's charter to coerce ever-higher pay.

Less than 5% of California cities permit binding arbitration with the number dwindling every year as community after community wakes up and removes that provision from it's charter.

Yes on Measure D, repeal binding arbitration, is absolutely the only way to go if we ever hope to better control escalating city wages and benefits.


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Posted by How about they do it legally
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 7, 2011 at 10:50 am

If the City had just met with the groups as requested (and required to do) in the spring they could have done this and had no problem with the ballot measure as scheduled in November.

Because of their own actions, they are now in a bind.


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Posted by a little perspective today rjay
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 7, 2011 at 11:01 am

A little perspective as Republicans today meet at the great library of Ronald Reagen (or is it just a museum for big planes?)

"They remind us that where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." Ronald Reagan, 1980

Which California governor signed the bill allowing municipal employees the right to collectively bargain, in 1968?

Yup - Ronnie!!


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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 7, 2011 at 11:52 am

I strongly agree with the folks who have responded and support removing binding arbitration from the PA charter. Removing binding arbitration is an important first step in restoring balance and reason to the CPA budget. Once binding arbitration is removed I hope to see the following:
1.) the retirement begin pay out age for all government employees be the same as the age for employees in the private sector. If the gov't employees want to retire early cuz they won the lottery, or are too out of shape to do their job etc, no problem. But no more retiring at 50 and collecting 30+ years of $100K salaries at my children's expense. Payouts should begin at 67. In the meantime, there will be work as security guards etc for folks who need to bridge the gap.
2.) limit gov't retirement payout to $50K annually (for all service). Eventually switch to 401k plan (like the rest of us).
3.) bring PA safety employee pay to national average (with a bay area cola). that would be about $60K for PA ff employees
4.) increase the hours of PA ff's to the same as CalFire hours (20+% increase).
5.) reduce PA ff's headcount by 40%. we don't need 30+ ff's sleeping every night in the stations.
6.) evaluate outsourcing hazmat and emt services. will result in 50% cost reduction and better service.

Maybe most important of all is for voters to get involved and educated. Remove from office politicians like Price who place their allegiance (and receive their funding from) unions above their duty to represent the voters.

Yes on D!


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Posted by a little perspective today rjay
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 7, 2011 at 11:57 am

"we don't need 30+ ff's sleeping every night in the stations."

Foolish. Of course we don't need 30 sleeping EVERY night.

But what about that ONE NIGHT, in that one station nearest your family, when your family needs them?


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Posted by RadioGuy
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 7, 2011 at 12:10 pm

RadioGuy is a registered user.

I consider myself a supporter of the men and women in our police and fire departments, but will vote to repeal binding arbitration. The truth is that binding arbitration is unfair to the residents and taxpayers of Palo Alto. The binding arbitration process takes the decision about public safety salaries and benefits out of the hands of the citizens and those we elected. Instead, a third party makes the decision. The arbitrator does not need to consider what else in the city budget must get cut to implement the decision, nor the long term financial impact. Bankruptcy is the only issue that the arbitrator can use to limit a city's "ability to pay."

Honestly, I don't care for the discussion about how one feels about current levels of pay the City's public safety employees receive. These were deals made in better fiscal times, under different circumstances, with mostly different players. But times have changed. Taxpayers and their elected officials need every tool at their disposal to work through the looming financial obligations that were promised during these good times. I'm very appreciative of the hard work and dedication of our police and firefighters. However, any reasonable person can see that current binding arbitration approach is fiscally unsustainable and a disaster for the City's long term finances. We cannot budget for expenses that we can't control.

During the "dot com" boom days of 2000, Republican Gray Davis signed a law requiring cities and counties to submit to binding arbitration with law enforcement and firefighters. The California Supreme Court threw out this law in 2003. Today, this kind of binding arbitration is illegal in California general law cities. Only charter cities in California are allowed binding arbitration. And, San Luis Obispo repealed binding arbitration just last month for reasons nearly identical to Palo Alto's.

Ultimately, with constrained city revenue and limited options for raising more money, binding arbitration will likely lead to less officers patrolling our neighborhoods. Do you realize that PAPD used to be able to field a K9 unit for most patrol shifts? Today, PAPD can't, and isn't even borrow a K9 unit from other cash-strapped surrounding communities. Instead, we have now have 50 year old cops jumping fences, chasing 20 year burglars on foot. Is this the future you want for Palo Alto?


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Posted by Arbitration-Must-Go
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2011 at 12:28 pm

> San Luis Obispo repealed binding arbitration just last month for
> reasons nearly identical to Palo Alto's

Links to that story ..

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by SW
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 7, 2011 at 12:29 pm

I just finished reading an interesting book, called Plunder, which discusses the great power of California's municipal, state and fire/safety unions. The books states that one of the reasons the unions have been able to increase their pay and benefits, while so many private-sector employees suffer layoffs, is due to their influence over politicians (ie through campaign contributions).

To me it seems ludicrous that you start a job at age 20 with the assumption that nothing can be changed in terms of your pay increases and benefits. Every company I worked for reduced healthcare benefits during my tenure and eliminated their pensions. But every time someone suggests changing the retirement age or pension benefits in the public sector, the unions say it's illegal. Yet, the federal government has raised my retirement age to collect social security more than once. So why is it illegal to do the same for the public unions?

The first step in correcting our huge budget problems is eliminating the laws and statutes and regulations that make it impossible for cities, counties and states to adjust to the global competitive world in which we exist. I will support the Palo Alto city council in this and all efforts to align our workforce with the budgets and economic realities we have now and going forward. This isn't about denying union members decent pay and benefits. It is about everyone learning to live within their means.


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Posted by Hero
a resident of another community
on Sep 7, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Wow, I am so disappointed and frankly amazed at you "foolish" posters. Like the one intelligent poster stated, what are you going to do on that one night when your family has an emergency. What if there is an earthquake or a tsunami or the Russians attack, or the Martians invade? You should demand that your city council stop messing with our salary and benefits. You should demand that there be a minimum staffing of 100 heroes every night. We should be compensated a minimum of $200K per year and that we be allowed to retire at 40. We are brave, strong, amazing and unique. You will not be able to replace us.


Like this comment
Posted by Evan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 7, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Hah. ^^ Pure gold.


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Posted by JL
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 7, 2011 at 1:48 pm

It's a shame that a lot of my fellow residents seems to be taking cheap shots at our public safety personnel. Few of them will ever have to conduct a traffic stop with a known armed felon in the front seat who is willing and able to kill you. Few of them will have to worry about having to be jolted awake at 3AM to respond to a high speed car crash on the 101 where the passengers are unrecognizable. Few of them will have to live with the nightmares of terrible medical calls, exposure to carcinogens and pathogens, constant unrelenting stress, and strict professional demands that follow you even when you are off duty.

We can have a lively debate about wages, but respect the few that keep us all safe.


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Posted by Arbitration-Must-Go
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2011 at 2:15 pm

> Few of them will ever have to conduct a traffic stop with a known
> armed felon in the front seat who is willing and able to kill you

How often does that happen here in Palo Alto?

If a police officer feels that the job is unsafe, what is stopping him/her from seeking other employment?

And what does this topic have to do with a discussion about "arbitration"?


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Posted by Jane
a resident of University South
on Sep 7, 2011 at 2:17 pm

It's HIGH TIME that the firefighters union learned that they can't get all the continually growing benefits that they aspire to, while the rest have to live in the real world.


Like this comment
Posted by SPH
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 7, 2011 at 4:09 pm

"How often does this happen?" More often then you think. I would guess they stop a parolee or felon everyday. You just do not hear about it because the city wants you to think you live in this safe bubble. Who wants to put their lives on the line for 40k/year? Who wants to protect citizens who are ungrateful. Oh and the city manager is making $250k+/year and has a house paid for by you! But hey he deserves a home on us and $250k for nothing. Lastly the police have turned down their raise multiple times and last I heard they offered a pay cut but the city tuned it down.


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Posted by Carlito Waysman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 7, 2011 at 5:39 pm


Ready to vote to repeal binding arbitration. No more "negotiating" with the Public employees Unions, now that the ballot is around the corner.

Binding arbitration HAS to go.


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Posted by RadioGuy
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 7, 2011 at 5:59 pm

RadioGuy is a registered user.

I'm certain most residents are happy with the service from Palo Alto's public safety workers. But, there's obvious anger about the level of compensation and terms surrounding their contracts. Nobody can reasonably argue that the firefighters haven't done very well while large numbers of taxpayers had their benefits and wages cut and watched their retirement saving evaporate. Saying that this or that executive in some other area of government is overpaid and should be cut first isn't an effective argument that's going to yield a solution. That argument only points out that one doesn't understand the depth of the problem facing us.

If you lived through the 1970's, you'll remember why binding arbitration was added to the City's charter. Unions had "gentlemen's agreements" not to strike and governments paid a reasonable wage with benefits. During the 1970's, high inflation caused wages to fall behind. At the time, most local governments were run by "establishment" types that uniformly and frequently voted against wage and benefit increases for public safety workers. The "establishment" was made up of professionals such as local businessmen and lawyers with no union affiliation. Public safety workers went on strike to protest. San Mateo and San Francisco firefighters went out on strike for weeks. Given the inequity of the times, public safety unions successfully campaigned for binding arbitration in Palo Alto.

The reality is that Measure D is not going to roll back wages or cut benefits to public safety workers. Measure D simply repeals binding arbitration from the City's charter. Measure D does not eliminate collective bargaining and, in my opinion, isn't even anti-labor. It simply restores balance to the negotiating process with the unions. The vote to add it the November ballot was close, 5-4. This vote could have easily gone 4-5. Labor unions are well represented on the City Council, so the original reason for having binding arbitration has long since passed. If you believe firefighters are underpaid, vote for council members who want the same thing you do, if you don't, vote for somebody else. The unions want to paint Measure D as a fight between hard working individuals and government "fat cats." But the reality is that there are only two sides negotiating a public safety labor contract in Palo Alto: the City (taxpayers) and the union representing them. The union will do fine and so will the workers themselves. Repealing binding arbitration simply gives back some missing balance to the negotiating process. A "yes" on Measure D places the process back into the hands of the taxpayers instead of a disconnected third party who doesn't have to pay the bills for years to come.


Like this comment
Posted by talk
a resident of Monroe Park
on Sep 7, 2011 at 7:58 pm

I believe both sides should find chance to talk under calm and normal condition.no more hand out or arguments.


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Posted by Arbitration-Must-Go
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2011 at 9:41 pm

>> "How often does this happen?" More often then you think.

> I would guess they stop a parolee or felon everyday.

So that means that there are at least 365 parolees/felons stopped here in Palo Alto every year? That number normalizes to about 608 felons are stopped in the Bay Area per 100K population. Multiplying this out, that comes to 39,400 felons stopped every year in all of the Bay Area counties.

Sorry .. but that is just too hard to believe.

> You just do not hear about it because the city wants
> you to think you live in this safe bubble.

Ok .. that is believable. Not something that adults trying to create a meaningful democracy want to hear--but something that could well be true here in Palo Alto.

> Who wants to put their lives on the line for 40k/year?

Well .. any idea what the pay scales are for the US military? Those guys are not paid as much as police, and for those in combat--their lives are in danger every day from people more dangerous than "armed felons".


Like this comment
Posted by Jones
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 8, 2011 at 6:37 am

The only reason the city does not want binding arbitration is because they will LOSE. Binding arbitration is a fair process by which an impartial third party make s decision having weighed all sides, with ALL the facts and finances on the table.

Would YOU accept a 25% loss in pay from one day to the next with NO ability to strike? How would you take care of your family? Would you have to sell your home or get a second job? Do you really want to have the lowest paid police and fire departments in all surrounding counties protecting YOU at night and saving YOUR life when you have a medical emergency?

The democratic party used to be in favor of employees rights....the right to gather and bargain and have a voice for FAIR benefits, wages, and working conditions. This used to be a great, progressive City that I was proud to be a part of. Now it seems everyone has gone insane......


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Posted by Arbitration-Must-Go
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 8, 2011 at 8:37 am

> Would YOU accept a 25% loss in pay from one day to the next
> with NO ability to strike?

Let’s not forget that all police/fire employees have a right to QUIT if the salary, benefits, and working conditions become to onerous.

> How would you take care of your family?

Most families these days have at least two earners. Suggesting that this is not true for public safety employees, or should not be, makes it seem that public safety employees as now seen as a “special class” of people that should not be expected to manage their financial affairs like the rest of us.

> Would you have to sell your home or get a second job?

Depends on how much the monthly mortgage is, how much equity is in the home, whether the property values in the neighborhood are rising, or falling. Lots of inputs to such a decision.

By the way .. lots of people (in the millions, actually) have lost their homes in the last couple years. People do what they have to do to survive.

> Do you really want to have the lowest paid police and
> fire departments in all surrounding counties protecting
> YOU at night and saving YOUR life when you have a medical emergency?

There will always be a “lowest paid” police/fire department, when salaries/benefits are compared. Is it your suggestion that the people who are served by public safety department as not safe—because these employees are not qualified, or not motivated to do their jobs?

Oh, by the way, two-thirds of the fire departments in the US are “volunteer”—meaning that the men and women who get up in the middle of the night to help protect their neighbors homes are not “union”, and are not paid.


Like this comment
Posted by Arbitration-Must-Go
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 8, 2011 at 9:08 am



> who are served by public safety department

who are served by the lowest paid public safety department



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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 8, 2011 at 9:33 am

The arrogance of a union declaring that the voters cannot be asked to decide this issue without the City first getting the permission of the union to put this on the ballot emphasizes why this measure should and will get overwhelming public support.


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Posted by Arbitration is Fair
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 8, 2011 at 10:09 am

The city wants to get rid of binding arbitration because they no longer want to be a fair employer. They want to dictate the terms of the employment. If we go this route, we will lose some good employees and will have trouble gaining new ones. It is fine for the employer to dictate the terms of the employment, but we then must live with the consequences. Of course we don't want to pay for any public employee's luxurious lifestyle on the backs of us who have to work hard. But let's be real. That isn't happening here. How many Palo Alto public safety officers actually can afford to live in Palo Alto? I believe, it is currently none. I have heard some commute in 1 1/2 hours to work. If we lower their salaries to valley wages, they are going to ask themselves, why commute? Sure, we will be able to fill their positions, with others who will be using this city as a stepping stone. We will pay for their training and when they gain experience, they will leave. It will cost us more money in the end.

For those of you who do not believe public safety is a dangerous job, you need to wake up. 130 officers were killed so far this year. I'm not sure of the number of fire fighters, but I know it is up there too. Yes, they do have a choice to leave. Most are drawn to this line of work for the same reason soldiers are drawn to serve, to serve the people. We should at least pay them a good salary. For those of you comparing the pay of U.S. soldiers, you are correct, soldiers get paid less. They should not. They are very underpaid. It is a disgrace. These are the men and women who lay down their lives for us. This fact is not "drama" or over exaggerated. They do lay down their lives for us. It is a shame many of you do not appreciate it.

Do I think we should be giving Palo Alto's public safety raises right now? Hell no. No union is even asking for a raise. But we can afford what we are paying them right now. I felt proud to be paying our city employees a good wage for a good job. If we get rid of the fair process of binding arbitration, we will all lose.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 8, 2011 at 10:15 am

If Arbitration is Fair thinks that arbitration is fair then all he/she needs to do is to convince 51% of the Palo Alto voters that arbitration is fair.

How could it possibly be fair to allow an unknown, unelected individual to make decisions which are binding on all of the citizens of Palo Alto?


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Posted by danos
a resident of another community
on Sep 8, 2011 at 10:54 am

"Would YOU accept a 25% loss in pay from one day to the next with NO ability to strike?"

-- That pretty much sums up the situation for most of us in the private sector.

Why should public sector workers be any different? The fact that they think they should be really irks me.


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Posted by Arbitration-Must-Go
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 8, 2011 at 11:25 am

> 130 officers were killed so far this year. I'm not sure of the
> number of fire fighters

Web-sites that document national FF deaths tend to show about 100 FFs die "in the line of duty" every year. About 2/3rds of these FFs are killed going to/from the call-out site in traffic accidents, and physical problems (heart attacks/strokes) that are attributed to a "sedentary life style". The remaining 1/3 (35-40) FFs are actually killed fighting fires.

By the way, the US BLS maintains mortality statistics by occupation. Lumber jacks, and crewmen on fishing boats, suffer far higher death rates than do FFs.


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Posted by not at all
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 8, 2011 at 4:43 pm

"If we go this route, we will lose some good employees and will have trouble gaining new ones. "

No, this will just bring PA into line with all the other cities. PA will just need to pay the market rate instead of being gouged.


Like this comment
Posted by Tim
a resident of another community
on Sep 8, 2011 at 5:02 pm

"No, this will just bring PA into line with all the other cities. PA will just need to pay the market rate instead of being gouged."

Oh ya, then why did the last 4 out of 5 firefighters hired, leave Palo Alto to work for other cities? Because of better pay and benefits!


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 8, 2011 at 8:45 pm

The pay and benefits received by PA ff's are similar or better than most other local cities. The PA ff's who recently left were mostly rehired by their former depts. They had longer length of service or shorter commutes so they went back. The bottom line is that PA could fill every ff opening with 20 qualified applicants within two days of posting an opening, at 75% of the current posted salary. That means supply exceeds demand so PA should reduce salaries and benefits to the market rate.


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Posted by Ernesto USMC
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 9, 2011 at 12:13 am

If other departments overpay, that doesn't mean PA should as well. Pay should be ratcheted down to market rate, which is lower than what neighboring departments pay, and much lower than the inflated wages PA currently pays. Market rate is when supply meets demand, and as long as there are 10 qualified replacement workers lined up for every vacancy (give me returning veterans in these jobs any day), turnover is not an issue.

60K (starting) to 100K (specialists and leadership) and a 401K. The department will be fire and we'll have millions to spend on schools, roads, parks, or tax relief.


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Posted by George
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 9, 2011 at 10:27 am

Feather-bedding Measure R put forth by the fire union last year was torched by 75% of Palo Alto voters. YES on Measure D should win similar Palo Alto voter support.

This is a fire union crusade, pure and simple. Notice that no other unions are joining in this binding arbitration fight. The reason: binding arbitration applies only to public safety employees. With limited resources to go around, when public safety employees win, other employee groups lose.

YES on Measure D is just one small step toward restoring fairness to city employee compensation programs.


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Posted by Two cents
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 10, 2011 at 12:27 am

I think we need to stop refering to them as "public safety unions" and refer to them as the fire union and the police union. They have very different jobs, conduct themselves very differently and have very different workloads. Turn on a radio scanner and listen for a week or two. You will be amazed what you hear right here in pa. Before I started listening, I never would have belived it. The cops are running around ragged and seem to do a good job with few resources. Each PA cop I have interacted with has impressed me. I dont want to vote out binding arbitration for these guys knowing they have no ability to strike. If Keene wants to impress some of our citizens by rangling in the "public safety unions" then focus on the fire department and stop grouping them all together.


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Posted by Homegirl
a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2011 at 9:16 am

Naturally, the three highest paid bargaining groups happen to be in "Public Safety". They think they have the public by the short hairs. Little do they know, it's already shaved down to an affordable solution, barely.


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Posted by S.Coen
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 10, 2011 at 9:52 am

Some of you seem to think that a volunteer fire department could work here because of what you have heard from other's. Yes a volunteer fire dept. could be the answer if you as citizens are willing to be those firefighters. Are you willing to go through the year long training to learn how to fight fires at a temp. of 500 to 1000 degree's. Or how about how to extracate someone out of a car accident who is screaming in pain or worse, is dead and you now have to remove them from the car. Or how about the car accident up on pagemill road where a car has driven over the cliff at 10 pm or 2 am during the winter with heavy rains and you now must get to the scene and repel down the hillside about 100 feet and try and remove them while they have injuries. Or how about the medical call at 2 am when the patient has a GI bleed ( that is when there gut is bleeding internaly and it is coming out of their rear end) wait until you have to put your gloved hand into it and the smell is so so wonderful. You want to throwup!. And lets not forget the confirmed house fire call that is burning when you get on the scene and you now have just seconds to make decisions that decide whether the trapped occupants can get out or not and YOU have to try and get inside to save them because that is what you are trained to do.
So if there are enough residents in our city who feel that at any time during the day or night, whether you are about to read a bed time story to your kids, or if one of them is sick,or you are entertaining friends or expecting to have a casual dinner with your spouse or if you yourself are sitting on the toilet when your volunteer pager starts beeping are you really willing to get up from the can or from your dinner or at a local restaurant to go to that call then by all means start a program and maybe it will be successful. I have no problems in paying our firefighters and police these wages. At least i feel confident that our employee's will be here for us 24/7 because we DO pay them a excellent wage. Reduce the wages and benifits and you will see a drop in experienced personel as they will go to other cities who will pay more.
Redwood City Fire Dept. is a prime example of this situation in early 1980's as they were losing experienced firefighters to other cities who offered better working conditions. Binding arbirtration is a safety net that protects both sides in labor disputes. Sometimes the union does not always win and sometimes the city does not win but the system does protect both sides from taking advantage of each other.


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Posted by Ernesto USMC
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 10, 2011 at 11:19 am

The above post lists the occasional hazards of firefighting. I could write up a list 10X longer and 100X more harrowing and stomach churning that describes the life of a US military serviceman or woman. And even with the risks and hardships of serving in the armed forces well understood, hundreds of thousands of qualified volunteers enlist to serve at about 1/3rd the total compensation of a PA firefighter, and if you factor in that the job is 7 24 hour shifts for months at a time, the hourly pay is probably 5%-10%.

We would be able to sustain a fire department at much much below what we are paying today, and its not justifiable when the tax money is better used for other public services. I know scores of vets who would jump at the chance to have the life of a PA firefighter at 5K per month with a 401K, and I know there are thousands more qualified unemployed (vets or not) candidates who would do the same.

The Police, I believe, are a much more reasonable union which has not alienated the public, and, given that their job is much more demanding than their FF counterparts, have little to fear from Measure D.


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Posted by S.Coen
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 11, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Well Ernesto, as someone who was a vet I am somewhat surprised and disappointed in your atttude toward our other American Hereo's. That would include our police and firefighters. As a vet myself I was always taught that those who serve, whether in the military ( which is volunteer not drafted therefore it is your choice to enlist or not) or in the public sector each deserve our support and not to "attack" another working group. When you talk about sustaining a fire department which would pay less and have a different retirement system then maybe we should really look at what we all pay in taxes to our Federal Goverment and why we allow our military vets or retired vets to enjoy their salaries for just working as a desk jocky or being a cook and also enjoying free medical care and reduced cost medical care on our tab as taxpayers. Those who decide to serve are doing this because they wanted too. No one said that you must go into the military. But we support all of our men and women who decide to join by giving them a pretty good pension after about 20 years . Just so you understand Palo Alto Firefighters are not the highest paid in either Santa Clara County or San Mateo County. Their department is in the middle. By all means any city can reduce salaries and benifits and as usual what happens is as other cities look at hiring new firefighters many cities will offer a better salary and benifits package to try and get seasoned firefighters with some years of experience versus a new firefighter with no experience. Supply and demand. That is what happens and then cities realize that they are loosing experience to neighboring cities who are willing to pay a more competative salary. Yes a city can do this but this is what happens. Oh and by the way fire departments all around have many vets who are now firefighters and they also are getting their medical care still from the government plus the city. I say why are we double payng for that. That's alot of taxpayer money going to the Fed's to pay out when they are now in the public sector and we could use that money for other public services. I hear what you are saying but lets not "hit" our firefighters.They work hard and provide our city and residents a excellent service 24 hours aday. Just like our military and reserves.Their is no need for slamming or being bitter torwards our public safety people. it almost seems that maybe you had a bad experience with the firefighters. We never know when someone goes off to fight how dangerous it may be and today on September 11, 2001 our Country and it's firefighters and police as well as civilans were reminded that even public safety personnal are targets anywhere on our soil. Rather then belittle our employee's it would be better to understand both sides by talking with them and not just listen to one side or the other.
Have a safe and healthy year.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Sep 11, 2011 at 10:03 pm

I think it is stunning that a wealthy community like PA would be so shamelessly hostile to its fire and police personnel. The 10th anniversary of 9/11 makes this hostility especially sickening.

Do your seriously think there are terrorism targets in Silicon Valley? Do you think we're not subject to natural disasters as we sit on the San Andreas Fault?

Not to mention the fact that fires happen with startling regularity on the Peninsula - we read about house fires constantly, as well as the recent horrendous gas line ruptures in both Cupertino and San Bruno (have you not seen that map of potentially explosive PG&E lines in our area?)

Don't you acknowledge that firefighters have a very short career -- disabling injuries, and even just age, cut the careers short.

Do you want to put your life on the line to volunteer? Or, do you want volunteers. who may be regular computer programmers, to respond to your house and try to save your family? I don't.







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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Sep 11, 2011 at 10:09 pm

TYPO in my post = "Do your seriously think there are terrorism targets in Silicon Valley?"
OBVIOUSLY it should read "Do you seriously think there are NO terrorism targets in Silicon Valley?"

There are clearly all kinds of terrorism targets (with both local and worldwide impact) in Palo Alto and up/down the Peninsula.

An investment in Emergency Preparedness/Response PROFESSIONALS is critical to the Peninsula.


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Posted by well
a resident of Southgate
on Sep 11, 2011 at 10:30 pm

i think why we/she should keep silent.


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Posted by Ernesto USMC
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 11, 2011 at 10:47 pm

As to double paying vets who get private sector jobs:

Military pensions cap out at 50% of very low base salaries, and pale in comparison to the pensions we give firefighters, and military jobs are much more arduous and risky. I don't have a problem with these usually 1-2K monthly pensions for retired soldiers as a taxpayer. I do not, however, see fairness in paying firefighters average pensions in the ~4-5X range of a typical military pension.

This is purely an issue of responsible governance. Every interaction I've had with a PA FF has been a pleasant one. As a citizen an stakeholder in this city, though, I can't ignore the fact that that market indicate they are highly overpaid relative to both the labor market (many qualified workers waiting in the wings who would work for much less) and relative to other service jobs. We need the money for other valuable services, or to relieve the tax burden on the reeling private sector.

I don't like seeing the hero card played in a collective fashion to describe too non-specific of a group (the FDNY at ground zero was as heroic as they come, as are many of the largely anonymous soldiers and marines from the last decade of war, but lumping every firefighter or serviceman into the above groups is dilutive and misleading), but I will say this: There is no Marines' union and no Soldiers' union. The fighting men and women who don't like the working conditions in Afghanistan can't and don't threaten the DoD with binding arbitration, and can't and don't devote time and energy into floating legislation like Measure R, or trying to restrict the public's vote on Measure D. I value everyone who serves this country, but I won't grant preferred status to the most politically connected. This is a dialogue that the city needs to have, and I'm encouraged that its on peoples radars.


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Posted by Arbitration-Must-Go
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2011 at 9:49 am

> Today, PAPD can't, and isn't even borrow a K9 unit from other
> cash-strapped surrounding communities

And just how many times a shift were these K-9s put to work? Given that these "tools-of-the-trade" are being phased out by not only Palo Alto, but surrounding jurisdictions, maybe there wasn't enough work for them to do on a daily basis to justify their costs?

Of course, we could be employing surveillance cameras, and other kinds of surveillance technologies to better track, and identify, people in our community, so that we don't have to depend on aging, overweight, officers to run after twenty-somethings.

The issue becomes one of vision, and ultimately how to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars that are likely to be spent on public safety in the coming years.


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Posted by Arbitration-Must-Go
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2011 at 10:11 am

> As a vet myself I was always taught that those who serve, whether
> in the military ( which is volunteer not drafted therefore it is
> your choice to enlist or not) or in the public sector each deserve
> our support and not to "attack" another working group.

Taught by whom?

The fact that the military is no currently drafting to obtain its needed troop requirements is a fairly recent set of circumstances. Historically, most wars involving the US have seen about 2/3rds of the inductees being drafted. The draft is still in place. All eighteen year old males are required to register, and if a war came along where there were not enough volunteers, then the draft will simply be reinstated overnight.

It's a shame that we are being lectured by people who don't know much about history of the US military.


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Posted by saner contracts
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 12, 2011 at 11:05 am

Eliminate the binding arbitration clause. Support our city!


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Posted by Robert
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 12, 2011 at 8:19 pm

DON'T REPEAL BINDING ARBITRATION

By law, Police are forbidden to go on strike. Police have no recourse for unfair labor practices except for binding arbitration. What the citizens of Palo Alto should understand is that without the threat of binding arbitration, city officials can, and will, unfairly target police with extreme salary and benefit cuts for their own political gain. Police have bent over backwards to help the city in past years by voluntarily forgoing raises and saving the city big money. Its not right that they should now be treated like public enemy number one after all the good faith they have shown.

Once they city gets its way and eliminates binding arbitration, they will ruin the police department. They will take away too much in pay and benefits and you'll find that no cops will want to come here or stay here, and those who do will be lured away by other departments with better compensation. What does that leave the citizens of Palo Alto? Just look over the border at East Palo Alto. They have comparably low pay and benefits and can only attract cops who can't get jobs with other departments. Is that what we want in our city?


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Posted by Robert
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 12, 2011 at 8:27 pm

And how do you expect police to afford to live anywhere within an hours drive of Palo Alto? Housing is expensive, cops have families and mortgages to afford. This city should show some class and take care of its police officers, not war against them. Police feel under appreciated as it is. Can you imagine how our police feel when they consistently provide excellent service to a wealthy city like Palo Alto and they are treated like gardeners? Unappreciated, thats how they feel. And Palo Alto should show more class by treating them like they deserve. Shame on those who feel otherwise!


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Posted by Robert
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 12, 2011 at 8:43 pm

For those who are comparing police and fire fighters to the military, stop it. This is an unfair comparison. People in the military don't have to pay rent, mortgages, grocery bills, utilities, medical, etc. All the money they make is free and clear. They don't even need cars. I spent six years in the Marine Corps and never owned a car. I had more money in the bank then than I do now. The bay area is expensive!


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Posted by Jackie
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 12, 2011 at 9:31 pm

The military comparison is an apt one because it puts into perspective the firefighters claims that the occasional hardship of their job merits the hug paychecks and benefits that they receive. I bristle at fire pensions thatvare multiples higher than military ones.

The cost of living argument is irrelevant, because as long as there are tens or hundreds of qualified applicants for any opening, the market is saying that with all factors accounted for, including cost of living, we taxpayers are overpaying and beon wasteful.

And to the argument that public employees will lack recourse without binding arbitration, this is false. Any employee can leave at any time if they are able to do better for themselves elsewhere. This is how the real worl works.

I've been lurking but felt compelled to weigh in because the status quo is unsustainable, and I see a lot of arguments defending it. I don't want to bankrupt my children's city under pension payments. I'll be voting yes on Measure D.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 12, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Robert states:"People in the military don't have to pay rent, mortgages, grocery bills, utilities, medical, etc."

Only if they don't have dependents and don't live off base and even then any "savings" pale in comparison to the real risks they face at a fraction of what our local first responders get paid.


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Posted by Robert
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 12, 2011 at 11:43 pm

Jackie wrote: "I don't want to bankrupt my children's city under pension payments."


Are you really drinking that cool-aid? Palo Alto has millions! And they intend to raise 500 million more to build a new police building! I am tired of people using that old "bankrupt my children's future " line as an excuse to not bother with the facts.

Binding arbitration will not bankrupt the city. Binding arbitration is a tool to ensure fair labor practices. Why would you not want the city to exercise fair labor practices? An impartial third party decides what is fair when there is an impasse in the negotiation practice. What is wrong with that?

The big picture it this... if there is no binding arbitration then city officials are free to practice unfair and illegal labor practices for their own political gain. That will be a sad day if the voters allow that possibility.

An arbitrator will ensure fair practice. Do you really trust the city officials more than the police union? Its the police union that has repeatedly demonstrated its good will and generosity over the years by cooperating wholeheartedly and voluntarily forgoing contractual raises. Do you really think city officials are like minded? I don't trust them, they are politicians whose first priority is self preservation.



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Posted by Robert
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 13, 2011 at 12:03 am

Peter Carpenter said this:

Robert states:"People in the military don't have to pay rent, mortgages, grocery bills, utilities, medical, etc."

Only if they don't have dependents and don't live off base and even then any "savings" pale in comparison to the real risks they face at a fraction of what our local first responders get paid.


Peter, I was in the military and I can tell you that it isn't a fair comparison. Military personnel who live off base get more money so they can pay rent. And they get more money if they have kids. Uncle Sam takes care of them.

And by the way, only a fraction of the military are combatants. Not everyone in uniform is a front line combatant. In fact, 70 percent of military personnel have support roles.

Besides, my point has nothing to do with risk to income ratio. My point has to do with economics. If Palo Alto doesn't pay the market rate for its police officers, they will get an inferior result. You can't go backward 20 years in an instant. Look around, other cities have made cuts because they needed to. Palo Alto's sales revenue is way up.

Maybe most Palo Alto residents have trouble understanding how expensive it is to live in the bay area because they have lived here forever and pay only a fraction of the housing costs everyone else does. Pay your rightful share property taxes and then you might begin to understand.


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Posted by Ernesto USMC
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 13, 2011 at 2:04 am

Robert:

Your posts typify why I'm voting for Measure D and why I voted against Measure R.

1. You try to frame the argument as Measure D will force Police and Fire compensation below market rate. This glosses over the fact that PA is paying well OVER market rate for its fire department especially. This is abundantly clear by the ratio of qualified applicants to openings ratio that is far beyond the private sector. You are the one not bothering with the facts.

2. Accusing a poster of "drinking the cool-aid" because she advocates responsible fiscal policy is disrespectful and a little desperate, as is hiding behind the ever-less-convincing "Palo Alto has millions!" argument. Wasting taxpayer money is wasting taxpayer money. It doesn't matter how much you have or don't have. Overpaying firefighters is a waste of money. How many future roads will rot, schools be defunded, park employees fired, tax increases passed, or other service cuts would you advocate to pay bloated fire pensions? Your lack of concern for our future generations typifies what we've seen from our public sector unions this generation, who would love for nothing more than for employee costs to keep doubling every 10 years.

3. Citing that 70% of the military is in support roles, as you do to weaken the case that military pay shows how overpaid firefighters are, is quite hypocritical when you consider that less than 2% of firefighter calls deal with actual fires, and time between calls (sleeping or idling) if fully paid. Considering that even the support roles in the military often require yearlong deployments overseas and still pose much greater risk than firefighting in Palo Alto, your argument is self-serving and disrespectful.

4. CA is a right to work state. Any employee who feels they are being underpaid or treated unfairly can leave at any time. I want my city to be able to offer market rate salaries without having to face the threat of an arbitration panel with the self-serving Tony Spitaleri sitting on it.


I'm supporting D and getting everyone I know to fill out their ballots this November. This has gone on long enough.


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Posted by Hero
a resident of another community
on Sep 13, 2011 at 8:20 am

Thank you Robert for taking the time to support your local heroes. I am so disappointed in folks like USMC who don't realize that all heroes should close ranks and never question anything about another hero. Just like the way we never give traffic citations to other heroes. We are special. We are brave, amazing, and strong and have earned the right to be treated special. I especially appreciate the fact that you spend most of your many posts citing facts and specifics, and not just rambling on about wonderful we are. What is the use of having parks, and libraries, maintained roads etc, if you don't have heroes to protect you. Instead of talking silly terms like market pay rate and efficiency, the rich people of Palo Alto should be increasing taxes so they can hire more heroes and pay us more. Keep up the good work Robert!


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Posted by Davion
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 13, 2011 at 10:24 am

Hero,

Your post is most insightful. One critique, though: you forgot to mention that if the public dares to try to pay you less than 200K in total compensation and six figures for life starting at 50, for you to mostly respond to routine medical calls, sleep, and idle with the other heroes due to over-staffing (thanks fire union), heroes such as yourself will somehow not be able to save MY FAMILY when MY HOUSE CATCHES FIRE and MY CHILDREN WILL DIE, all because I thought it would be good governance to use our taxpayer dollars to offer market rate compensation like the rest of the world. Please don't forget to play the fear card in the future.


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

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