An attempt by Palo Alto's firefighters union to keep a labor-reform measure off the November ballot hit a wall last week, when a state labor-relations board rejected the union's request for an injunction.
The International Fire Fighters Association, Local 1319, was seeking an injunction that would have blocked a Palo Alto ballot measure repealing binding arbitration from the City Charter. The city's binding-arbitration provision, which voters adopted in 1978, allows a three-member panel to settle labor disputes between the city and its public-safety unions. The City Council voted 5-4 in July to place the item on the November ballot after more than a year of debate.
In its request to block Measure D, the union argued that the city failed to consult the unions in good faith when considering a new mechanism for reviewing disputes. The firefighters union also filed an "unfair practice charge" against the city with the Public Employment Relations Board charging the City Council with depriving the union of their "meet-and-consult" rights.
City Attorney Molly Stump argued that state law does not require the city to consult the unions on the issue of binding arbitration. The board upheld the view and found that the union didn't have sufficient grounds for an injunction.
While the board has yet to rule on the unfair labor charge -- the hearings are scheduled for later this month -- it has notified the city this week that it has rejected the union's request for an injunction.
"By direction of the Board, the request for injunctive relief in the above-entitled matter is denied without prejudice, sufficient grounds therefore not having been demonstrated," the board's General Counsel Suzanne Murphy wrote in a Sept. 15 letter to the two parties.
The board's rejection of the union request paves the way for what promises to be a heated public-relations battle in the month and a half leading up to the election. The firefighters have been equating the city's attempt to kill the binding-arbitration provision in the City Charter to recent efforts by Republican legislators in Ohio and Wisconsin to curb the collective-bargaining rights of their respective state employees.
Proponents of the ballot measure argue that the existing law keeps the council from fulfilling its budget-balancing duties.
Board officials will consider the unfair labor charge on Sept. 26 and Sept. 30.
Measure D is one of two items city voters will be asked to consider on Nov. 8. They will also be asked to vote on Measure E, which would "undedicate" a 10-acre portion of Byxbee Park and make it eligible for a new waste-to-energy facility.