Firefighters lose legal challenge against Palo Alto

Public Employment Relations Board throws out fire union's 'unfair labor practice' charge against city

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.

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Like this comment
Posted by annonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2011 at 7:37 pm

It's time the Fire Union think about replacing Tony with someone else. The old 'good guy' approach isn't working with the city manager and council.

Like this comment
Posted by AndyPanda
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 15, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Attention palo alto fire fighters.
It's time to kick Tony Spitaleri to the curb.
Get some one who can help fight for your best interest.s While at the same time keeping you in a favorable eye with the people of palo alto.

Like this comment
Posted by George
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 15, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Given the Palo Alto fire union membership has elected Tony Spitaleri its president for 33 years running, they should not be surprised that Tony's brilliant leadership has resulted in losing two resent, and important, elections by wide margins. Now the Public Employment Relations Board is saying, 'sorry Tony, you were a day late and a dollar short in working with the City on the arbitration issue...your appeal is dismissed.'

Tony has a history of beating the dead horse he rode in on, so don't be surprised if you see Tony's fire union filing a last gasp appeal to this dismissal ruling within the next couple of weeks.


Binding arbitration is dead in Palo Alto. It is being similarly snuffed out in the few California cities that still have it.

Next to go, if fire union members have brains in their heads, is...Tony Spitaleri.

Like this comment
Posted by Negotiate in good faith
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2011 at 10:40 pm

The stupid irony of this whole thing is that if the Spitaleri led Union had not pushed to have their first petition placed on the ballot, the end arbitration ballot measure would never have gone before the voters. Now's the time to negotiate in good faith, and be prepared to take your cuts along with the Police and other Unions.

Like this comment
Posted by Karenna
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 15, 2011 at 10:41 pm

The fire union should have to pay the city's legal costs associated with this self-serving groundless attempt to prevent the peoples right to vote.

Like this comment
Posted by George
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2011 at 7:26 am

Time to look at fire staffing levels especially at night. Also, the city employees need to start paying more for their medical and retirement fund. The bleeding of the city needs to stop.

Like this comment
Posted by A Noun Ea Mus
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 16, 2011 at 11:04 am

Well a small loss in Palo Alto for union rights. But big wins in Ohio and other places.

For "guys like me" the salient point in both is that now the servants are finally going to be spitting in their master's food.

Ye Reap What Ye Sow

Like this comment
Posted by Old Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2011 at 11:22 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2011 at 12:42 pm

For too many years now, the firefighters have had a bad public image because of the actions of Tony the Union Tiger. When was the last time he fought a fire or responded to an emergency call? It is time for him to leave his so-called leadership role and let someone abler and more flexible take it on.

Times have changed and none of us can rest on the assumed benefits promised by CALPERS and Union Leaders. Palo Alto residents and elected officials have pragmatically acted in the way they must to keep our city healthy financially. We are the ones who must pay the firefighter and it is up to us to say how that is done. They can always go somewhere else if they don't like the pickings here.

Like this comment
Posted by danos
a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2011 at 12:50 pm

"Ye Reap What Ye Sow". What a crock.

In my company, anyone who doesn't like the working conditions is welcome to seek employment elsewhere. Why should firefighters or any other public servant be any different?

If ya don't like your job, move along and make room for the next guy. Sorry, that's just how it is.

Like this comment
Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2011 at 2:33 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by please stop
a resident of another community
on Nov 17, 2011 at 11:34 am

Please stop beating up firefighters. We're not in a financial crisis because of them.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Tired taxpayer
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 23, 2011 at 8:17 am

The Fire unions all over the State have finally killed the goose that laid the golden egg. No City can afford to have employees earning over 200K a year, who are inactive 90% of the time. It makes no sense. Firefighting is a semi-skilled job that should be paid commensurate with the skill. As for paramedic services they can be delivered cheaper by private ambulance services. Yes the unions have reaped what they sowed.

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