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.