Fire Union Rejects Mayoral Candidates

POA Endorsements: Gartman for Mayor

The firefighters union has endorsed an incumbent, a new-comer
and a planning commissioner for the city council, but for the first
time, it refused to endorse a mayoral candidate, according to a
union member.
Gilroy – The firefighters union has endorsed an incumbent, a new-comer and a planning commissioner for the city council, but for the first time, it refused to endorse a mayoral candidate, according to a union member.

Councilman Craig Gartman is challenging Mayor Al Pinheiro for the mayor’s seat, and planning commissioners Tim Day and Cat Tucker, former Councilman Bob Dillon, lawyer Perry Woodward and incumbents Roland Velasco and Russ Valiquette are running for the three available council seats

The union chose Valiquette, Woodward and Day, but Fire Local 2805’s secretary and treasurer, Jim Buessing, declined to elaborate on the union’s decision not to pick either Pinheiro or Gartman.

“There are probably a lot of reasons,” Buessing said. “There were multiple items from various interviews that led to our decision not to endorse a mayor at this time.”

Pinheiro said he was upset about the decision, but he suspected it might have to do with his stance on union negotiations.

During a salary talk impasse with the fire union in February 2005, the city stuck with binding arbitration, which the union favors, but which Mayor Al Pinheiro has opposed.

“We certainly appreciate and respect all the work that the firefighters do, but the current financial picture within the city and state does not lend to providing the kinds of increases they’re talking about,” Pinheiro said in 2005. “We are the keepers of the city coffers and we must make decisions based on what the city can afford.”

The binding arbitration process involves the creation of a three-person panel made up of one representative each from the city and the fire union, as well as a third “neutral” arbitrator that heads the panel and serves as a tie-breaker.

Pinheiro suspected his stance on the issue might have dissuaded the union, which usually favors binding arbitration because safety workers cannot strike, so the arbiter can end a salary dispute.

“We looked at the history of the incumbents and their voting history,” Buessing said. “The past came into play.”

But Pinheiro’s opponent has voted for binding arbitration and did not receive the fire union’s endorsement either.

“I have no idea (why they didn’t pick me),” Gartman said. “They’re making their opinion known that right now they can’t decide between us.”

Former Councilmen Bob Dillon didn’t receive an endorsement either even though he has pushed hard to pay more to firefighters who are also paramedics. Like Pinheiro, he opposed binding arbitration and voted to send the issue to voters in 2003, when he sat on the council.

“My feelings are hurt because I’m a great admirer of them,” said Dillon, who acknowledged that his and Pinheiro’s opposition to binding arbitration “messes with (the union’s) pay.”

“There’s a difference between being a city employee and sitting on the city council. You find yourselves at (union) negotiations together, and they want what they want,” said Dillon, referring to the fact that councilmen must guard the city’s money while unions also seek better pay and benefits.

Councilman Valiquette supports binding arbitration, though, and said he has “always” enjoyed fire support.

One reason is the fact that he used to be a paid-call firefighter in the late 1980s and early ’90s, “which means I know the inner workings of the fire department pretty well.”

Valiquette has always been an advocate of public safety, Buessing said, and Day and Woodward were both “very well prepared” and knew the city’s history along with the budget and financial issues all the candidates talked about.

Despite the decision, Pinheiro said public safety will remain a top priority.

“It doesn’t matter whether I get the endorsement or not. It is my view that public safety is a priority to community,” Pinheiro said. “I believe I’ve placed enough of a high priority on public safety to win the endorsements of (the police and fire) unions, but I also understand that they had a concern with me bringing the issue of arbitration to the forefront.”

The fire union and the Gilroy police officers union discussed their endorsements together and tried to come to a consensus, according to Mark Ordaz, vice president of the fire union. Three members from each union made up the joint endorsement team, but Ordaz cautioned last month that they could end up endorsing different candidates.

The police union has completed its endorsements, but multiple calls to union members were not returned by press time Tuesday.

Historically the firefighters union has mailed paper endorsements to registered voters, but this year Buessing told the Dispatch, “I’m not at liberty to say.”

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