A state appellate court has ruled that the City of Palo Alto violated the law when it did not confer with its unions before placing a measure repealing binding arbitration on the ballot in July, 2011.
The Sixth District Court of Appeal in San Jose's 60-page decision, filed Nov. 23, is the latest twist in a case that has been winding its way through the courts since 2011, when the City Council voted to place Measure D on the ballot. Shortly after, the International Association of Firefighters, Local 1319 (IAFF), which strongly opposed the measure, filed a unfair labor practice complaint alleging the city did not consult with them in good faith beforehand. At the time the city countered that firefighters had plenty of opportunity to discuss binding arbitration with city officials before July.
In November 2011, Palo Alto voters overwhelmingly approved Measure D, stripping the "binding arbitration" provision from the City Charter.
In considering the union's objections, an administrative law judge had ruled in the city's favor, but the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) later reversed that decision and ordered the city to rescind its actions.
While the appellate court decision made clear that the city should have conferred with the unions prior to putting a measure on the ballot, it also said that PERB improperly ordered the city to rescind the City Council resolution amending the City Charter, stating it "violated the doctrine of separation of powers by ordering a legislative body to take legislative action."
The court struck down the PERB decision in its entirety and directed the board to issue a new order that is consistent with the court's lengthy and technical ruling. The court suggested a proper legal remedy would be to declare the city's resolution void.
It is likely that the resulting new PERB order will force the city to conduct a new election repealing binding arbitration (after conferring with its unions) if it wishes to eliminate the binding arbitration provision from the City Charter.
The appellate court examined whether binding arbitration falls under the scope of California's Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA), whose purpose is to "promote full communication between public employers and their employees by providing a reasonable method of resolving disputes regarding wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment between public employers and public employee organizations."
The court ruled that binding arbitration is "properly considered a mandatory subject of consultation" under a section of the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act.
"[It is clear that the City failed to meet its obligation to consult in good faith. Even assuming that the consultation requirement should be markedly different than the meet and confer requirement, it, at the least, requires the parties to meet and discuss the issues," the court states.
The appellate court also found that Public Employment Relations Board's ruling did not violate charter city home rule provisions of the California Constitution nor the constitutional authority of the City Council to propose charter amendments to voters.
Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt said in a statement that he expects the issue to return to the voters.
"It is up to the citizens of our community whether a private arbitrator or the elected City Council should decide how to balance employee wages and benefits with other critical needs, such as investing in infrastructure or expanding City services," he said. "We look forward to supporting our community's democratic right to choose what’s best for Palo Alto."