A provision, which allowed firefighters and the police to use outside arbitrators in the settlement of contractual disputes, came full circle Tuesday night when Palo Alto voters approved Measure D with a 67.28 percent majority and repealed binding arbitration.
In 1978, voters added the provision to the City Charter, giving arbitrators the ability to make binding rulings when the two parties reached impasses on pay and benefit disputes. The move was attributed at the time as a way of counterbalancing the fact that the city’s firefighters and police officers do not have the right to strike.
However, with the passage of Measure D, Palo Alto has now repealed the provision — following a statewide trend. Vallejo voters also repealed binding arbitration in its June elections, and San Luis Obispo voters in August.
The San Jose Mercury News called the measure “a test of the clout of public unions in a Democratic stronghold.”
Yoriko Kishimoto, a former mayor of Palo Alto and a Measure D supporter, told the Peninsula Press in an interview posted on YouTube earlier in the week that the measure comes after years of growth in the funds delegated toward areas like the fire department, which as a result, has “crowd[ed] out other services.”
She said that Service Efforts and Accomplishment (SEA) reporting has shown that funds dedicated toward fire safety have grown by 31 percent over the past five years, while funds for community service have remained unchanged.
Tony Spitaleri, president of the Professional Firefighter’s Union, opposed the measure and called it a “power grab” in an interview with Peninsula Press that was also posted on YouTube. He said that firefighters would no longer be able to “push back” during negotiations over their contract, which will expire in three years.
“I think it’s another way of having control of your workforce and having them have little or no say in what happens to them,” he said.
Spitaleri expressed disappointment that the measure passed Tuesday night.
“We’re going to end up with nothing resolved,” he said to the Peninsula Press. “A group of people treated like second class citizens.”
Palo Alto voters also passed Measure E, which would un-dedicate 10 of Byxbee Park’s 127 acres in hopes of building a compost facility, with a 64.38 percent majority.
“Support for Measure E allows further research of the waste-to-energy facility options,” said Mary Alice Thornton, the president of the League of Women Voters of Palo Alto, to the Peninsula Press.
– Kurt Chirbas