A week after Palo Alto firefighters lost their long-held right to take labor disputes to arbitration, they suffered another defeat when a state labor-relations board threw out their legal complaint against the city.
The state Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) on Tuesday (Nov. 15) dismissed the "unfair labor practice" charge the firefighters union filed against the city before last week's vote on Measure D, which scrapped binding arbitration from the City Charter (View ruling). The 1977 provision had empowered a three-member arbitration panel to settle disputes between the city and its public-safety unions. The measure passed overwhelmingly, with about two-thirds of the voters supporting it.
The decision by Chief Administrative Law Judge Shawn P. Cloughesy to dismiss the union's complaint cements the repeal of binding arbitration. Had the union prevailed, it would have requested that PERB issue an injunction for approval by Superior Court, an injunction that could have invalidated Measure D and restored binding arbitration.
In its complaint, the International Association of Firefighters, Local 1319, maintained that the City Council had failed to negotiate in good faith with the city's public-safety unions before voting 5-4 to place the issue on the November ballot. The union had claimed that the city did not fulfill its obligation to "meet and confer" with the unions before bringing Measure D to the voters. The city had maintained that binding arbitration is not a subject that requires its negotiations to meet and confer with union representatives.
In his ruling, Cloughesy concluded that the fire union failed to demonstrate that it ever requested to consult in good faith with the city. The closest it came to such a request, he wrote, was a July 18 meeting of the City Council at which Tony Spitaleri, the union's president, requested that the council adhere to state labor law. This, Cloughesy ruled, did not constitute a demand to bargain. The council voted 5-4 later in the meeting to place the repeal of binding arbitration on the ballot.
Cloughesy also found that Spitaleri's request came a little too late.
"Not until the last minute, during the Council meeting as the Council was preparing to vote on the proposed amendment did Spitaleri request that the City adhere to Government Codes," Cloughesy wrote. "Such a last minute request is tantamount to a waiver by inaction to consult in good faith with the agency and, as such, it is not found that the City adopted a motion to submit to the voters a ballot measure which would completely repeal Article V without fulfilling its obligation to consult in good faith with Local 1319 and this allegation is dismissed."
The Tuesday ruling represents the latest in a series of defeats for the union, which was engaged in a 16-month standoff with the city before the two sides reached a three-year agreement in September. The new agreement created a less lucrative pension formula for newly hired firefighters, requires new employee contributions for medical care and abolishes the long-standing "minimum staffing" provision, which required at least 29 firefighters to be on duty at all times.