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Arbitrating Comes to Halt for Palo Alto Police and Firefighters

Friday, November, 11, 2011

Arbitrating was an issue on the ballot this week in the prosperous city of Palo Alto, California.  Voters had to evaluate the issues underlying Measure D, which proposed to end the process of requiring police and firefighters working for the city to use binding arbitration to settle contract disputes.  The requirement was embedded in the City Charter and applied to all "public safety unions”.


Arbitrating a Contentious Issue


Firefighters in Palo Alto were not pleased by the voters' decision, which was to pass Measure D by a significant margin: 67.3%.   "We’re going to end up with nothing resolved", commented Toni Spitaleri, who has worked for the Palo Alto Fire Department for almost 40 years.  Spitaleri added that he felt the firefighters and police officers in the city were being "treated like second class citizens”.


The former mayor of Palo Alto, Yoriko Kishimoto, saw the issue differently, commenting that “I do want the firefighters to know that they are tremendously respected and that they’ve been doing a great job in Palo Alto.  I don’t think the vote was about that.  Sometimes there’s a limited budget and we have to negotiate compensation within that bigger picture”.


Public safety unions are in a unique position since California law forbids them to strike.  Binding arbitration was seen for years as a solution to this dilemma.


The vote will not affect franchise arbitration.