Only Two Get a Nod

Both public safety unions endorse Bracco and Gartman for City
Council; Only police give endorsement to Dillon
Gilroy – Local public safety unions have endorsed two City Council candidates who promised to leave binding arbitration in tact, while a third candidate who has openly criticized the dispute-resolution procedure only managed to win the trust of police.

On Tuesday, officials for Fire Local #2805 announced the endorsement of Planning Commission Chairman Dion Bracco and incumbent Councilman Craig Gartman for two of three council positions up for grabs in the Nov. 8 election. The Gilroy Police Officers Association added incumbent Councilman Bob Dillon to that list.

The endorsements came a week after a half dozen union representatives grilled five candidates – including former councilman Peter Arellano and incumbent Charles Morales – on a host of issues related to public safety and the city.

“Binding arbitration was definitely a big topic,” POA President Jason Kadluboski said. “We will be going into negotiations in the spring and felt that these would be the three candidates that would treat us fairly.”

The use of an outside arbitrator to resolve labor disputes represents the strongest bargaining chip of public safety workers who, unlike other city employees, are forbidden by state law from striking. Mayor Al Pinheiro and other city leaders led a failed effort this year to uproot the dispute-resolution procedure before the city heads into arbitration with firefighters in January.

Both Bracco and Gartman oppose Pinheiro’s efforts to use a ballot measure to repeal or amend binding arbitration. But while Gartman says it has served the city well since voters instituted it in 1988, Bracco holds a less favorable opinion.

“It needs some work,” Bracco said. “I believe it drives a wedge between the city and its employees.”

He said he did not mince words on that position during his interview with union officials.

“I didn’t go in telling them what they wanted to hear, but I told them I’ll always listen to their side,” he said.

That position sits well with fire union officials who have criticized the lack of direct communication with city leaders. Council members set a strict tone for the current round of negotiations by informing union representatives in 2004 that they would have no direct contact during labor talks. Instead, all communications between council and union members are channeled through a handful of city negotiators. Pinheiro and other officials see the framework as way to unify the city’s bargaining position and avoid back-room promises, but union officials regard the posture as rigid and unresponsive.

The unions have expressed strong support of greater council involvement in negotiations, a position backed by all three candidates who received endorsements.

“We don’t want a yes man,” fire union president Art Amaro said. “That’s not who we’re asking for. We want somebody who’s going to treat us fairly and listen to us when we want talk to them.”

While Dillon has downplayed his opposition to binding arbitration and instead focused on increased council involvement in labor talks, he was not surprised to learn the fire union passed him over for an endorsement.

“It’s kind of expected since I was one of the point men on binding arbitration,” he said.

Amaro responded, however, that the fire union passed Dillon over based on other considerations.

The binding arbitration issue has dominated headlines since the city and fire union reached impasse in spring. For Gartman, last week’s endorsement interviews underscored the view that the entire arbitration debate has grown overly politicized and crowded out other issues. He backed the position by suggesting that his opponents would have secured the endorsements if arbitration was the only concern of firefighters and police.

“I think a lot of people were trying to make binding arbitration an election issue,” Gartman said. “If you were to use binding arbitration as the sole reason for endorsement, then it sounds like they’d endorse Charlie [Morales] and Peter [Arellano]. But they wanted to know my position on many subjects – not just the issues important to them, but issues important to the community. They weren’t looking at binding arbitration as their sole decision maker.”

Public safety representatives echoed that assessment.

“The question we asked them,” Amaro said, “was, ‘do you feel the infrastructure of the city is meeting the growth of the city? Are we providing enough parks, enough roads? Are we keeping pace?’ There’s more to a city than just public safety.”

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