The City of Palo Alto will appeal a recent ruling by the Public Employment Relations Board, which has said that the city violated state law in failing to confer with the city's firefighters union before placing on the November 2011 ballot a measure to repeal binding arbitration.
During a closed session Monday night, the council voted 7-0, with council members Pat Burt and Gail Price absent, to challenge the labor board's Aug. 6, which overturned an earlier decision in favor of the city by administrative law judge Shawn P. Cloughesy. Both rulings were a response to a complaint filed by the International Association of Firefighters, Local 1319, which charged the city with not negotiating in good faith before placing Measure D on the ballot. The measure overwhelmingly passed, with more than two-thirds of the voters supporting the repeal of binding arbitration.
In voting to challenge the ruling, the council followed the recommendation of City Attorney Molly Stump, who told the Weekly last week that she would recommend doing so. Though the labor board's ruling did not invalidate the Measure D vote, it left the city vulnerable the firefighters union challenging the vote in Superior Court. The labor board also required the city to post public notices disclosing that it has violated the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act "by breaching its duty of consultation in good faith" with the firefighters union.
"This conduct," the notice states, "also interfered with the right of unit employees to participate in the activities of an employee organization of their own choosing and denied Local 1319 the right to represent employees in their employment relations with a public agency."
Fire Capt. Kevin McNally, current president of Local 1319, told the Weekly last week that the union hopes to avoid a lengthy legal battle with the city. He said the union hopes the ruling will bring both sides to the negotiating table to discuss arbitration, a provision of the City Charter that had been in place since 1978.
"Hopefully, this will bring people back to the table so we can find a solution," McNally said.
The arbitration provision empowers a three-member panel to settle disputes between the city and its public-safety union. The union argued during the Measure D campaign that the provision is necessary to protect the employees' interests because, unlike other workers, they are barred by state law from striking. Opponents of binding arbitration, including the council majority, countered that it is an obsolete rule that kept the city from making meaningful reforms to employee benefits.