Court ruling invalidates Palo Alto's 2011 repeal of binding arbitration

Voters may have to decide again on city measure

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."


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19 people like this
Posted by Will of the Voters
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 1, 2016 at 4:59 pm

Voters approved this overwhelmingly. The union sued over a procedural technicality. We need another vote ASAP. The half million or so cost of the next election should be subtracted from the next firefighter contract. From a lifelong democrat, this is completely out of hand.

3 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2016 at 6:24 pm

This is a complicated issue. The result of the election cannot be interpreted to mean much since the City Charter has the City Attorney writing the "impartial analysis" for all election ballots. So basically, one side of a dispute gets to write the ballot impartial analysis - how can that ever be impartial? Much has been written about the propensity of City employees to advocate for something they or the Council want, rather than to impatially advise or protect the interests of residents. San Francisco City charter does not allow this kind of bias and stacking of the deck in elections.

If this goes back to the ballot box, th City must first fix the election code in our charter that allows even illegal bias to make its way into City ballot analysis. We can adopt a version of what San Francisco does which has worked for over thirty years.

25 people like this
Posted by City Employee
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2016 at 7:01 pm

Not surprised. Former union President and former Sunnyvale Mayor Tony Spitaleri warned the city officials in 2011 (San Jose Mercury 9/7/2011 article) that it was illegal to authorize Measure D for the ballet before meeting with its public safety unions. Spitaleri then filed a unfair labor practice complaint with the city that month. The City Attorney [portion removed] didn't do [his] homework and reiterated that the city was not required to meet with Palo Alto's public safety unions before placing Measure D on the ballot. Maybe the Fire union needs to bring back Mr. Spitaleri as their President. He seems to know the laws better than most cities do.

31 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2016 at 9:15 pm

"The City Attorney Molly Stump didn't do her homework and reiterated that the city was not required to meet with Palo Alto's public safety unions before placing Measure D on the ballot."

Dock our incompetent city attorney's salary for the costs of this bungled action.

Posted by Misdirection
a resident of Old Palo Alto

on Dec 2, 2016 at 10:11 am

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7 people like this
Posted by disenchanted
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 2, 2016 at 11:09 am

The Democrats are a wholly owned subsidiary of the unions - this should not surprise anyone.

17 people like this
Posted by City Employee
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 2, 2016 at 1:21 pm

To Will of the Voters:
So you want to take money from the firefighters contract (most likely illegal to do) because they played by the rules and filed a labor complaint and they won in a court of law. Pathetic.

Like this comment
Posted by A Noun Ea Mus
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 2, 2016 at 2:44 pm

Over reach leads to over teach.

4 people like this
Posted by Brethren
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 2, 2016 at 3:01 pm

Speaking as a liberal Democrat, unions suck.

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

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