Guest Opinion: No on Measure D

City should modify, not throw out, binding arbitration

by Gary Fazzino, John Barton and LaDoris Cordell

We believe there is a better solution than the outright repeal of binding arbitration, as proposed by Measure D, and encourage voters to vote no so the City Council, police officers, and firefighters can work together for a compromise alternative.

Having served on the city council, we know what it's like to negotiate contracts with the city's public safety unions under the city's binding arbitration law. It isn't always easy, but it is true that the best solution always comes from agreement at the bargaining table. And that's how the majority of contracts have been reached over the last three decades, including the successfully negotiated contract agreement that was announced by the city and the firefighters just last month.

When the voters of Palo Alto passed binding arbitration in 1978, it was a different time. The city was facing a different financial picture and had different obligations. There is no doubt that times have changed, and laws need to change with those times. That's why the city council spent the last several months looking at real options to reform binding arbitration, rather than repeal it. A process where the city council works with our police officers and firefighters to craft an updated modification of binding arbitration is the better approach and the fairer approach.

It was only by one vote after a controversial debate that outright repeal was put on the ballot in the form of Measure D. In Palo Alto, binding arbitration is a matter of fairness; and Palo Altans value fairness. Unlike other unions in the city, police officer and fire fighters do not have the right to strike. Their only option in cases where contract negotiations break down is to go to a neutral third-party arbitrator to settle disputes. Without binding arbitration, an alternative resolution process, or the right to strike, police officers and firefighters effectively lose their collective bargaining rights. Binding arbitration gives police and firefighters a level playing field with other city employees.

In addition, Measure D is unnecessary because binding arbitration has rarely been used. In the 33 years since binding arbitration was passed by the voters, binding arbitration has been used only six times. In fact, the last time binding arbitration was used for fire fighter wages and benefits was in 1980.

We urge voters to take a close look at Measure D and realize that there is a better solution that treats our police and firefighters fairly while protecting taxpayers. Updating binding arbitration or finding an alternative that is updated for the 21st century without undermining the collective bargaining rights of police and fire should be our goal. Measure D does not achieve that goal.

We urge voters to join us in opposing repeal of binding arbitration. Vote No on Measure D, so the city council can work with police and fire fighters to craft meaningful consensus reform that everyone can support.

Gary Fazzino, John Barton and LaDoris Cordell are all former Palo Alto City Council members.

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Posted by Voter and Taxpayer
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 15, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Given that the public unions have basically bought and paid for a number of our current city council members (Gail Price being the most flagrant case), it is not possible to "work with" the fire union without the taxpaying public getting taken for a ride. The current contract was signed only after 16 months of holding out for the current union-dictated minimum staffing rules, and only after the fight to keep measure D off the ballot was lost. There is nothing Tony Spitaleri and the fire union would like more than to defeat Measure D based on an empty promise to work together for reform, so it can be right back to business as usual.

Business as usual has left us with a fire department that acts purely in its own interest at the expense of the public; fighting to overpay itself and overstaff stations all at the taxpayer's expense. An impartial, civil grand jury in Santa Clara recently found flagrant inefficiencies in the way our fire service is operating (for example the waste involved in overstaffing firefighters to respond to routine medical calls when mission-specific ambulance services do the job better and more cost effectively). Link to the report is here:

Web Link

Given the chance to "work with" the city to perhaps create some value for the public by addressing these inefficiencies, Tony Spitaleri's knee-jerk response is to call the report "biased" and go right back to fighting to keep stations overstaffed and firefighters overpaid. ("biased" no doubt because an impartial civil grand jury can't be bought like a city council).

Link to PA story where Spitaleri weighs in on report.
Web Link

This is what we the public gets when our council is forced to deal with the fire union on an un-level playing field. Why should we be forced to look at potential police layoffs, reductions of other key services, and increasing taxes but still preserve a system that has created an overstaffed, inefficient department of firefighters making six figures to work two shifts per week and retire at 50 with a 90% pension for life.

Once in a while the public gets a chance to really fix something. The fire union didn't want us to have this vote for obvious reasons. They withdrew their legal challenge to Measure D going on the ballot only when it became clear they would lose, not because they are interested in letting the public have a say. I'm voting for efficient use of my tax dollars and voting yes on D.

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Posted by start afresh
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 15, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Voting YES on D doesn't remove the ability to work for a compromise solution.
Voting NO on D is a vote for the status quo and NOT a vote for a compromise solution.
Time to start from a blank slate.

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Posted by Vote-Yes-On-Measure-D
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2011 at 8:52 am

> Time to start from a blank slate.

Maybe it's time to allow public safety workers to strike, and for City governments to deal with them if they do.

For instance, if local governments were to keep a private fire protection service on retainer, then if a local fire department went on strike, the private company would be called in to provide emergency services for the duration of the strike.

In the case of Palo Alto, most of the calls-for-service involve ambulance transports, which can be provided by the private sector just as handily as the public sector. Hazmat inspections can be deferred, and if there were a Hazmat emergency, then mutual aid from other local departments, and/or the private sector, would provide the necessary expertise to deal with the situation.

This approach would see fire protection, at least, in terms of a regional model, rather than a local model. The unions would be able to strike, and to make all the claims about "unfair labor practices" that they want, while the core responsibilities of local government to provide a certain level of emergency response would be met.

Whatever the future holds, voting Yes on Measure D helps to get the ball rolling.

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Posted by George
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 16, 2011 at 10:54 pm

Binding arbitration is very unfair to every non-public safety worker in the city.

Each time public safety unions gauge another hunk out of the city of Palo Alto, every other city worker pays the tab either in a) fewer jobs, b) lower pay or c) reduced benefits.

That's why every other Palo Alto union other than the public safety unions remain silent on Measure D.

Fairness is only restored with a YES on Measure D.

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Posted by start afresh
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm

The problem I really have had with the "No on D" campaign is that it eschews "there is a better solution" without giving one.
If they seriously had an alternative, they'd provide details. Instead it's a lot of arm waving and no solution.
A valid "No" campaign for Measure D requires a realistic alternative. These issues have been going on for years even decades!
Doing nothing is not a plan.

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Posted by Question
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 24, 2011 at 12:33 pm

No on D.
Removing arbitration is just an excuse for the city to impose on unions rather than negotiate.

What kind of city lawyer and management uses the excuse that the fire department does not consider the rights of it's citizens...really?

The continued political and news media campaigns against labor are self serving for advertisers and city managements press releases.

See 2010 - 2011 Santa Clara County Grand Jury Report:
Rehiring of pensioners: Bad Policy,Good Policy, or Both?

Palo Alto games the system and has had 3-4 x more double dippers and 10x the hours of any other city in Santa Clara County.

Managing directors contiued to milk the system after retirning by not training those after them. Palo Alto City Management claims it was mnot expected. Some how the retiring managers guaged it just fine though.

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Posted by member of public
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 24, 2011 at 11:22 pm

The original intent of union is to balance the power between the workers and their possible greedy boss.

In private sectors, that may make sense. If the boss becomes too greedy, the union strikes and the boss lose money. On the other hand, if the union becomes too greedy and drives the company to bankrupt, they lose their own jobs. Neither way, at least they will not affect the general public (unless the government bail them out like the auto industry, on taxpayers' expense). So, both sides need to consider their own interest and come in negotiation with some good faith.

However, in public sector, who is the boss? The boss is the general public, the taxpayers. The taxpayers are paying the public employees. So, public employee unions are negotiating against the taxpayers. The more the public employee unions gain in the negotiations, the more the taxpayers lose, as simple as that. The public employee unions have no incentive to come in with good faith, because they have nothing to lose, since they know the government will not bankrupt. On the other hand, who represents the taxpayers? the elected leaders. When we have responsible elected leaders (like the four council members who support measure D), the leaders take the responsibility to protect the general public by keeping the public employee unions in check. When the elected leaders were bought out by the unions, either by bribe or by their votes, they sell out the taxpayers and give the public employee unions unbelievable generous compensation package. Palo Alto Public Safety Union's compensation package is many many times better than any private sector unions, why? is that fair? To me, it is utmost unfairness, and it is unfairness on the taxpayers' expense.

So, why does the Union boss always want to overstaff their department? There are two reasons. The more employees, the more union due they collect (in most cases, it is forced union due, the new employees are not allowed to opt out), so the more money they can use to buy out the corrupted elected leaders, hence the more powerful they become. Furthermore, union rule dictates that layoff is last-in-first-out, so, the more they hire, the more secure the union boss' job is, because they are the senior members. The union boss is building human shield for themselves by hiring more. Under union rule, no one is motivated to perform, because high/low performance has nothing to do with individual's pay nor job security.

The current national unemployment rate stays so high, primarily due to the reduction of public sector employees. So, why public sector job reduces more than private sector? It is because that public employee unions refuse to share the economic pain to reduce their pay, so the newer employees have to be laid off to preserve the ultra-generous compensation for the longer-term union members. While, in the private sector, many companies introduced pay cut across the board, so the layoff is not as severe. Public employee unions are the culprit of the current high unemployment rate.

I support the workers, the hardworking individual workers. But, that is polar different from supporting the public employee unions. The public employee union boss plays against their own members -- the newer members. They would rather see the newer members being laid off, than allow their own generous pay package being reduced slightly. In this Palo Alto case, the public safety union boss is even willing to sacrifice all non-safety public employees' interest, so to preserve their own generous pay. All the "fairness" or "worker rights" they claim to fight for, are nothing but excuses to maximize their own individual interest. They are the greedy hypocrites!

To the union bosses: if you truly believe that you represent your workers, I dare you to allow the union dues to be voluntary. You let whoever believes in you to pay the union dues, do not use the corrupted rule to force everyone else to pay you the due. I bet more than 50% of the workers will leave your union. If you represent less than 50% of the workers, you do not represent the workers but only the special interest of a small faction. You are not the worker's representative, it is as simple as that.

So, I definitely will vote Yes on D.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Oct 25, 2011 at 8:16 am

The authors state:"Without binding arbitration, an alternative resolution process, or the right to strike, police officers and firefighters effectively lose their collective bargaining rights."

How strange it is that firefighters and police all over the State and Nation sit down at the bargaining table every day and reach negotiated agreements WITHOUT binding arbitration IF they have lost "their collective bargaining rights".

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Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 30, 2011 at 11:32 pm

I am No on D. I think the measure is scapegoating the working class.

Good for Fazzino, Barton and Cordell for speaking out against this, especially with all the vitriol.

I think Gail Price did a good job at the debate. I doubt the union controls her other than she acts her conscience and supports our workers.

Also, I was psyched to see Professor Gould speak out on this, No on D.

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

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