Councilman: Axe binding arbitration

Perry Woodward

The day after a negotiations session between the City of Gilroy
and its firefighters union, Councilman Perry Woodward said he
wanted to take another look at a ballot measure to strip
firefighters of the right to binding arbitration.
The day after a negotiations session between the City of Gilroy and its firefighters union, Councilman Perry Woodward said he wanted to take another look at a ballot measure to strip firefighters of the right to binding arbitration.

“If they’re going to hold us hostage, the only choice we have is to take that power away from them,” Councilman Perry Woodward said Tuesday.

Temporary concessions worth $500,000 that International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2805 approved last summer for fiscal year 2009-10 are set to expire June 30. The city and Local 2805 are in the midst of negotiating concessions for fiscal year 2010-11.

Under binding arbitration, an impartial third-party arbiter settles differences between the city and the union if either party decides that labor negotiations are at an impasse. Police and fire unions say it is their prime bargaining chip, as public safety workers are not allowed to strike.

Woodward noted that Local 2805 has used the practice of binding arbitration twice since voters approved the practice locally in the late 1980s, while the Police Officers Association has never used it.

Firefighters have abused the practice, he said, and he fears that it could be an impediment as the city aims to balance the budget.

“It’s an implied threat in all of our discussions,” he said, though he would not discuss specifics of the closed session meetings.

Jim Buessing, secretary and treasurer of Local 2805, said binding arbitration is necessary for the firefighters union.

“It provides fairness and equity at the bargaining table,” Buessing said.

Arbitrators have not harmed the city in the past but only provide safe working conditions and fair wages for Local 2805 members, Buessing said.

He said he could not comment on Woodward’s proposal, saying “the man hasn’t said anything to us.”

Last summer, the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce requested that the council create a ballot measure repealing binding arbitration. In August, the council voted 5-2 not to sit down and talk with the Gilroy Police Officers Association and Local 2805 about tweaking the binding arbitration process. Immediately after that vote, the council voted 4-3 to take no action.

The chamber also did not follow up on banning binding arbitration. The chamber would have had to collect 1,800 signatures to put the issue on the ballot without the council’s support, and it would have cost the city too much money to do so, chamber representatives said.

At the time of the Aug. 3 council vote, council members Woodward, Peter Arellano, Craig Gartman and Dion Bracco all voted in favor of taking no action on binding arbitration for both the POA and Local 2805.

Woodward said this week that he still did not believe that the Police Officers Association had abused the practice and he felt a repeal should only apply to Local 2805.

Woodward said he believes there may be enough support on the council now to create a ballot measure specifically for the firefighters union. His request for the council to discuss the matter came one day after the City Council discussed labor negotiations with Gilroy’s fire and police unions.

Placing binding arbitration on the ballot for a stand-alone election would cost $425,000 if it were four pages without a page of rebuttal arguments, and $437,000 if it included rebuttals. As of May 2009, it would cost $72,300 if it were placed on this June’s ballot without rebuttal statements and $46,300 if it were placed on this November’s ballot without rebuttals. However, those prices will go up as the election date approaches.

Bracco, who voted against taking any action against binding arbitration last summer, said this week that the time may be ripe for change.

“The way things are getting any more, it may be time to let the voters decide,” he said.

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