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Labor board: Palo Alto violated law in firefighters' negotiations

Original post made on Aug 15, 2014

In a stunning victory for Palo Alto's firefighters union, the state Public Employment Relations Board has determined that the city violated state labor laws in 2011 when it put on that November's election ballot a repeal of the binding-arbitration provision in its contract with public-safety workers — without first consulting with the union.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, August 15, 2014, 12:00 AM

Comments (51)

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Posted by Firefighter
a resident of another community
on Aug 15, 2014 at 8:05 am

Glad this came down. Firefighters by law, can't go on strike. We need binding arbitration in negotiations with the city. Thanks Spitaleri!


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Posted by Voter
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 15, 2014 at 9:23 am

Tired of this consummate special interest milking Palo Alto taxpayers for all they are worth. The job of firefighter these days is statistically much safer than construction, utilities, farm work, etc, and yet we pay them the same "risk premium" that police get?

The labor board is filled with pro-union appointees. If the FF union even gets close to getting binding arbitration back, or their minimum staff levels, or other efficiency-killing tax-eating benefits, we should just outsource the department.

The compensation package that these guys receive: early retirement, otherwordly pension, etc. is so far out of alignment with the market value of their services that whenever there is an opening, there are several hundred applicants. Outsourcing this to Cal-Fire or even a private provider would make for huge savings (or better service if the money saved on overpaying wages is reapplied to the department).


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Posted by NO-TO-BINDING-ARBITRATION
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 15, 2014 at 10:14 am

This ruling should be appealed, if there is an appeal path. We have seen the corruption of "binding arbitration" in the Menlo Park Police Department over the past year. Two officers that should have been dismissed with cause are still on the force, continuing to do who knows what to the public--since they have a badge and a gun.

Here in Palo Alto, because of some much opacity in local government, we don't have as clear a picture of how many binding arbitratrions have occurred. One that people should not forget occurred at least a decade ago--when a lineman in the Utility was fired because he threatened to kill at least one co-worker.
This seemingly prone-to-violence employee then lawyered up, and was, through binding arbitration, got his job back, and $225K in back wages.

Binding arbitration insures that employees can engage in any number of illegal acts, on the job, and not have to fear any consequences.

NO--we the people, don't want binding arbitration in any part of policies of how we deal with wayward employees.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Aug 15, 2014 at 10:31 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

If you don't want binding arbitration then bargain it out of the labor agreements.

If a union refuses to bargain it out then outsource that particular class of work.


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Posted by Ronna Devincenzi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 15, 2014 at 12:22 pm

So prior to asking Palo Alto voters to decide about this, it appears the City should have consulted with the union first, and as a "Good Faith" action.

Looking at the big picture & over the long-term for this community, that seems both reasonable & healthy.

This ruling is a good lesson for everyone involved in Palo Alto City Government. I hope it's heeded so in the future, the community will not have to endure lessons mostly learned the hard way.

Peter Carpenter's comment is wise.


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Posted by Robert
a resident of University South
on Aug 15, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Maybe it's time to look at outsourcing our fire department or a least the Paramedic portion. These lifetime pensions and medical costs are taking a toll on many cities including Palo Alto. Also, when I walk by the High St fire station and see the Firemen washing their personal vehicles on "our time", it makes me very angry!


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Posted by Employee
a resident of another community
on Aug 15, 2014 at 1:41 pm

@NO-TO-BINDING-ARBITRATION

Not the same and facts are off. It wasn't a lineman in Utilities, but it was a Utilities employee. The binding arbitration the story references is for labor negotiations. The case with the employee who threatened another was part of the grievance procedure. But nice try digging up an incident from 7 years ago.


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Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 15, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Firefighters do important work. But they are overpaid, especially factoring in the generous retirement benefits.

The city needs to appeal this ruling.

Or outsource to Cal Fire.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Aug 15, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"
The city needs to appeal this ruling.

Or outsource to Cal Fire."

Why not first attempt to negotiate the issue with the union? Not all public safety employees have binding arbitration and this union may well be willing to give that right up (which was gained by mutual agreement in prior negotiations) in exchange for something else.


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Posted by NO-TO-BINING-ARBITRATION
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2014 at 9:21 am

> It wasn't a lineman in Utilities, but it was a Utilities employee.

Interesting. This person would have us believe that a lineman is not a Utilities "employee".

> The binding arbitration the story references is for labor negotiations

While it's true that the article is about labor negotiations—binding arbitration is the same, in any context. It binds the employers hands. It introduces a 3rd party into a conflict between two other parties with the power to resolve the conflict. Typically, such parties have no detailed knowledge of the conflict, and act quite arbitrarily. In cases like these, typically the party chosen as an arbitrator is a person known to be friendly to labor union interests—not the interests of the public at large.
The details of this particular situation can be found online--

City of Palo Alto v. Service Employees Internat. Union (1999)
77 Cal. App. 4th 327 [91 Cal. Rptr. 2d 500]
Web Link

The evidence adduced at the arbitration hearing showed the following. Camm began working for the City in 1983 and eventually became a lead [77 Cal. App. 4th 331]worker, who supervised a work crew, in the water, gas, and wastewater operations section of the City's utilities department. Camm is an avid hunter and previously had gone hunting with Bingham. Camm admitted that he once unintentionally brought a pistol, which he used for hunting, in his car to work.

Camm commonly threatened those working with him with physical violence if they did not perform but it seemed to be considered just talk. Camm acknowledged that he told people in the department, who knew that he was a single man, that the job was all he had and he had nothing to lose. Camm had threatened to shoot Bingham and others before the February incident and the threats were considered jokes and were not taken seriously. Camm had told people at work, including Bingham, that he could kill a man at 600 yards. Camm's personalized license plate says "Shooot." In February 1997, he owned 18 rifles and pistols and had scopes on almost all of his rifles. fn. 1
----
In this case, the decision of the arbitrator was appealed to a court review, which found that the City did not seem to have the power to terminate employees who threatened to kill other employees.

Notice that the SIEU was firmly behind the terminated employee—never once indicating that the employee's behavior was anything to be concerned about.
At some level, the issues in this situation revolve around due process for Union employees. However, it's clear from the information provided in the Court finding that the Arbitrator was not particularly concerned about the safety of the Utilities' employees, or the public at large.


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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 16, 2014 at 12:42 pm

The purpose of a government employee union is to take from taxpayer's as much as possible. They use their political contributions to fund politician's political campaigns. Then the politician's elected with the union funds give the union their payback in the form of excessive pay, benefits, and retirement. That is how we get PA union fire employees (who never graduated from college) making three times the national average pay of a safety employee. PA union safety employees make as much as doctors, engineers, and lawyers! And they spend as much time getting paid for sleeping as they do for completing any work related tasks. The system is out of control and needs to be fixed.

The solution is not only to do away with binding arbitration but to outlaw government employees from being allowed to join unions. And it would be better for the taxpayers if fire safety (not police) services were conracted out to private firms.


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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 16, 2014 at 2:48 pm

Pretty interesting that you know the education level of PA Fire employees.


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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 16, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Even more interesting that you don't know that a high school education is the educational requirement for a PA fire safety employee. Here is a little more info. When there is an opening, thousands apply. Why? Because the pay/benefits is way above the market price. When this happens in the private sector, the cost goes down and the purchaser gets a more fair bargain. But when government unions are involved, the taxpayer overpays. Time to outsource fire safety and outlaw unions.


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Posted by balance of power
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 16, 2014 at 7:00 pm

My takeaway from this is:
1) I'm a pretty involved citizen, but after all this, I still don't understand what's going on. It's important to understand the power dynamic; the best outcome balances power on both sides so that neither the fire department nor the City is taken advantage of. Just knowing how our City abused its power in the other Measure D, I'm afraid I'm inclined to listen carefully to why our firefighters were willing to go to court over this. Yes, it's important for the City not to be taken advantage of, but if that's the case, then we have bigger issues in need of addressing. It's equally important if that's not what's happening here, that we do not just make the firefighters feel powerless, that hurts morale and that in turn hurts performance and retention.

2) Was this a power play by City Council? Our firefighters seem to be under even planning and transportation in terms of organizational structure and power, and that's got to be demoralizing and hurting our safety (because it subordinates safety to development). Do we need a more independent fire department, reorganizing the City department structure, and how would that affect this moving forward? I'd like to see a new and more honest Council take up this question.

2) The article says, "The firefighters' complaint centered on the City Council's vote, which was 5-4, to place on the ballot the measure to repeal binding arbitration" It's notable that City Council put the measure on the ballot. I would feel much more comfortable with what happened if we had an impartial ballot process in this town, but we do not. The City put the question to vote knowing they had the ability to write the ballot question and impartial analysis. This is the ultimate conflict of interest.

The more recent Measure D, the development one, brought to light the fact that the City is capable of and does insert deliberate bias into ballots and appears to understand what it is doing and have been doing so since before the High Street referendum. The recent Measure D experience compared to a similar Measure in SF in the same election, suggests the City bias could influence the results of the election by as much as 15 points or more.

This situation highlights why it's so important for the City to conduct its in a transparent and ethical way. In the development Measure D, planning employees did some absolutely stunning end runs around the public process that may have even been illegal (like producing verifications as LRA for PAHC's funding application that were objectively untrue). Because of that, it's difficult to trust what they did here.

As a member of the public, I'd like to think the Council is acting in my interest, but that clearly hasn't been true for a long time in relationship to development, so it casts doubt on other spheres. I'd also like to think the firefighters are acting in my interest, and to that end, I'd like to know they feel they they have power to disagree when they think something is unfair just as I want to feel I have power to do so through referendum as a resident.

That said, I don't know how to evaluate this, because now we know the City can't be trusted when it comes to elections. We must reform our City's election code so that all ballots go through an impartial process such as in San Francisco (for the last 30 years, it works). I'm guessing the conflict of interest may be the basis of a challenge as described above.


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Posted by Appreciative resident
a resident of Mayfield
on Aug 17, 2014 at 4:26 am

The minimum requirement for a firefighter paramedic is a high school education, yet many have graduated from a 4yr college/university including Cal, Stanford, Santa Clara, SJSU. How narrow minded of you to assume they are uneducated. These individuals save lives of the citizens palo alto and are willing to risk their own lives if need be. They are outstanding human beings with families whom they don't see everyday, many of which do not live in the bay area due to the cost of living, are you aware of the cost of living in this area? In California? Seems to me the fire dept has become the scapegoat for the palo alto's budget issues. Yet when driving around palo alto, it looks like the city is doing just fine financially. Please be respectful of these individuals who may some day be saving your life.


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Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 17, 2014 at 6:25 am

SteveU is a registered user.

Street smarts are not enough to stay alive in a modern, commercial/industrial fire.
I suspect all the crew far exceed the minimum education requirements.
Firefighters don't get to pick which fires they go to.

The issue is runaway, Union benefit packages.
Any public Union group.

Civilians are at a disadvantage. Their jobs are not Unionized and they get to pay for those that are.
Pensions: gone. Pay rate: not keeping with inflation. Job: outsourced/part timed.


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Posted by Wilson
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 17, 2014 at 9:39 am

> Street smarts are not enough to stay alive in a
> modern, commercial/industrial fire.

Very few firemen are killed during the suppression of fires these days. Generally, only about 100 firefighters die on the job yearly. Of those 100, about 60% of those are killed in vehicular accidents, or from health conditions that can be attributed to a sedentary lifestyles, such as heart attacks.

Modern firefighting, particularly in the industrial environment, has embraced a fair amount of technology—as well as recognizing that it's better to let the fire burn that to sacrifice the lives of firefighters for no good reason. Firefighters carry radios, and airtank monitors—letting them know when they need to retreat from the interior of a burning building in order to obtain a new air supply. Vision systems that allow firefights to see into the interior of buildings have been under development for a while, and many fire departments now employ robots to enter buildings that they consider as unsafe, or where bombs/explosives might be placed, or just to provide "eyes" for the firefighters.

There aren't that many large industrial fires these days—at least in the US. However, when such fires start—like in a refinery—they are doozies. In most of those cases, media reports indicate that the responding fire fighting units often let these fires burn, since there really isn't much that units can be one with such a big fire at its hottest. Fighting forest fires probably results in more deaths than any other kind of fire, currently.

Sprinkler systems, and other modern fire suppression equipment has reduced the number of commercial fires across the country. Of course, this equipment generally has not been retrofitted into older buildings.

It's very likely that within a decade, or two, most of the industrial fires will be fought by machines, at least in their early stages.

And there will be another benefit to the public as more machines are utilized to fight fires—no unions, or binding arbitration.


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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 17, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Appreciative,

Best not to confuse "uneducated" with "enough education" to do the job. I suspect most of the union safety employees would not be happy if you called them undeucated. I would guess there are union fire safety employees who have the ability to complete a Masters or a PhD. But they didn't. They chose a job that requires a high school diploma. I'd like to see them paid according to their qualifications and market price.

If we continue to overpay government employees, our children and grandchildren will be saddled with the debt we allowed but didn't fund. We aren't going to be able have parks or libraries or other basic city services if we continue to overpay government employees and give them unreasonable benefits and retirement plans.

One of the solutions is to eliminate arbitration and government unions.


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Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 18, 2014 at 5:30 pm

I was one of only 50 Palo Altans willing to put their name on a defense of our public safety workers, NO on D at the time.

I would like to see a more thorough discussion of these issues.

I look at this in context of Fergusen, Missouri and the recent, in New York Times discussion of militarization of our public safety.

Web Link

I think we should self-govern, with leadership this is reflective of and listens to rank-and-file citizens, and a type of self-policing that expands neighborhood preparedness into something that de-specilizes public safety -- so certainly DO NOT out-source or privatize. I want to see people from Gunn and Paly (and I guess Casti) grow up to help keep us safe.

I think leadership in 2011 was taking orders from a non-elective cabal of right-wingers, arguably the same people who push for too much development.

I do not think our working class should be scape-goated for our problems.

That being said, I am skeptical about organized labor, and its leadership.

Thanks to the men and women in blue (and sometimes pink) for keeping us safe!

I appreciate the signed comments by our neighbors who disagree with this (pro-worker) viewpoint, however. Let's talk about it!

Like the Grand jury report of June 16, 2014 this is sign of a leadership crisis here.


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Posted by Too funny
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 18, 2014 at 6:30 pm

Isn't it funny how there are so many experts on labor issues whenever the Weekly posts a story about city employees. Why not just take a deep breath and speak or post only on issues you are knowledgeable about. Sometimes making statements on information or reported media accounts that you have no knowledge about only serves to show ignorance. Lighten up and go outside and enjoy life instead of posting nonsense.


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Posted by NO-TO-BINDING-ARBITRATION
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 18, 2014 at 6:32 pm

> I appreciate the signed comments by our neighbors who
> disagree with this (pro-worker) viewpoint, however.

Who is Mark Weiss?

> Like the Grand jury report of June 16, 2014 this
> is sign of a leadership crisis here.

Interesting that this Mark Weiss person appreciates signed postings—then refers to a report from the Civil Grand Jury that is totally anonymous. Other than possibly the chairman of the jury—no one knows who is on the jury, and the people testifying are almost always anonymous. Actually—people testifying before the grand jury are asked to sign a non-disclosure that prohibits their talking to anyone about their experience before the grand jury.

Wonder if this Mr. Weiss knows anything about grand juries?


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Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 18, 2014 at 8:24 pm

No. The Grand Jury report talks about SECRET MEETINGS between the developer and staff.
Similarly, you post ANONYMOUSLY, we presume to keep your identity SECRET.

The Palo Alto Weekly is a for-profit venture. A Grand Jury is a government, public sector function. Anonymity is inappropriate in one case and not the other.

Your attack is also an ad hominem. What else would you like me to teach you about governance and democracy and the Fourth Estate?

By the way I spoke on this issue at a PUBLIC HEARING, or City Council, tonight, which is searchable as a public record. (oral communications, non-agendized)


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Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 18, 2014 at 8:31 pm

From County website:

The concept of juries dates back to Norman times in the eleventh century. By 1215 the jury concept had evolved into a guarantee expressed in the Magna Carta that no freeman would be "imprisoned or [dispossessed] or exiled or in any way destroyed...except by the lawful judgment of his peers…."
In the United States, the Massachusetts Bay Colony impaneled the first grand jury in 1635 to consider cases of murder, robbery, and wife beating. The U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment and the California Constitution call for grand juries.
Grand juries were established throughout California during the early years of statehood. As constituted today, the grand jury is a part of the judicial branch of government, an arm of the court.
Functions
The Civil Grand Jury is an investigatory body created for the protection of society and the enforcement of the law. Although the responsibilities of a juror are many and diverse, the three predominant functions include:
CIVIL WATCHDOG RESPONSIBILITIES
This is the major function of present day grand jurors, and considerable effort is devoted to these responsibilities. The Grand Jury may examine all aspects of county and city government and special districts to ensure that the best interests of Santa Clara county citizens are being served. The Grand Jury reviews and evaluates procedures, methods and systems utilized by county/city government to determine whether more efficient and economical programs may be employed. The Grand Jury is also authorized to:
Inspect and audit books, records and financial expenditures to ensure that public funds are properly accounted for and legally spent.
Inspect financial records of over 25 special districts in Santa Clara County.
Inquire into the conditions of jails and detention centers.
Inquire into charges of willful misconduct in office by public officials or employees.
Most Grand Jury "watchdog" findings are contained in reports describing problems encountered and making recommendations for solutions. During its term, the Grand Jury may issue final reports on the operations of Santa Clara County government. The County Board of Supervisors must comment upon the Grand Jury's recommendations.
CITIZEN COMPLAINTS
As part of the civil function, the Grand Jury receives letters from citizens alleging mistreatment by officials, suspicions of misconduct, or governmental inefficiencies. Complaints received from citizens are acknowledged and investigated for their validity. Such complaints are kept confidential. If the situation warrants, and corrective action is under the jurisdiction of the Grand Jury, appropriate action is taken.
CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS
Occasionally and under certain circumstances, the Grand Jury holds hearings to determine whether evidence presented by the district attorney is of sufficient nature to warrant persons having to stand trial in court. A minimum of 12 jurors must vote for an indictment in any criminal proceeding. The types of cases presented to the grand jury by the district attorney usually include:
Cases involving public officials, employees or police officers.
Other cases the district attorney deems appropriate.
Qualifications
Prospective grand jurors must possess the following qualifications (Penal Code Section 893): Be a citizen of the United States of the age of 18 years or older who shall have been a resident of the county for one year immediately before being sworn. Be in possession of his or her natural faculties, or ordinary intelligence, of sound judgment and of fair character. Possess sufficient knowledge of the English language. A Person is NOT competent to act as a grand juror if any of the following apply: The person is serving as a trial juror in any court of this state. The person has been discharged as a grand juror in any court of this state within one year. The person has been convicted of malfeasance in office or any felony or other high crime. The person is serving as an elected public official. Desirable qualifications for a grand juror include the following: Open-mindedness, with concern for the views of others. Ability to work with others. Genuine interest in community affairs. Investigative skills and an ability to write reports.
Selection Process
In the spring of each year Superior Court Judges seek volunteers to apply for service on the Grand Jury. The Superior Court Judges nominate thirty prospective grand jurors from the pool of applicants, divided among the county's supervisorial districts. These people are invited to appear before the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court. At this time, with the outgoing Grand Jury in attendance, nineteen names are drawn randomly. All nineteen members are sworn in and given a description of their duties and responsibilities by the Presiding Judge. These citizens serve a one-year term.
Commitment
Persons selected for Grand Jury service must make a time commitment of a minimum of three days per week (20-25 hours) for a period of one fiscal year. It is not uncommon for Grand Jury members to devote four and sometimes five days per week to their duties.
Remuneration
Grand Jurors receive per diem of $20 for meetings and Grand Jury activities, and mileage reimbursement.
Orientation
An orientation program about county and city government and other county entities is provided to those selected for Grand Jury service.


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Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 18, 2014 at 8:40 pm

What are you suggesting, we cast out the working class and public safety unions, and hire Conan The Barbarian to protect us from those who weren't offered to buy in to Facebook at $20 Billion pre-IPO?

Are you Peter Thiel?


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Posted by Mike
a resident of another community
on Aug 18, 2014 at 9:14 pm

It is very sad and disturbing to hear how some people feel about public employees! Most of what is said is inaccurate and opinion and has very little fact behind it. Firefighters, Police Officers, Teachers, Nurses, and all public workers are needed to provide the services that are often taken for granted. I think it is often forgotten that we also pay taxes, provide for our families, and volunteer in our communities after working our shifts. What use to be a proud and noble profession has now been disgraced and ridiculed by people that do not understand its cause or realize the sacrifice that it requires of a person who chooses it.


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Posted by cid young
a resident of another community
on Aug 19, 2014 at 12:17 am

The Coastside is served by CAL FIRE via a contract. They are State employees, so no benefits issues billed to local taxpayers. And they don't "milk" the district for overtime, either.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of another community
on Aug 19, 2014 at 6:58 am

CAL Fire receives money through a contract with Coastside, so the local tax payers are paying for their benefits indirectly. CAL Fire is also one of the largest firefighter unions in California. I find it hard to believe that there is no overtime throughout the state to cover open shifts. The City of Palo Alto has chosen for many years to staff open positions with overtime, not the firefighters! Minimum staffing has been gone for almost two years and the City still chooses to pay overtime because it does not have enough employees to cover all shifts. Some of the firefighters don't or can't work overtime and are forced to work because of vacancies. This PERB ruling is about the Firefighters standing up against being treated unfairly by their employer, I believe all employees deserve to be be treated fairly and employers need to act ethically and follow the rules.


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Posted by Wilson
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2014 at 10:06 am

> Most of what is said is inaccurate and opinion and has very
> little fact behind it.

Such as? Can you identify any postings that you know for a fact are false?
(BTW--opinion, by definition, is neither true, or false. The substance of the opinion could prove to be true, or prove to be false. Being able to convey an idea in the form of an opinion is one of the basic rights of a free society.)


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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 19, 2014 at 11:27 am

Cid Young is right -- if Cal Fire ever turns into the bloated tax-eating entity that our current fire department has become (and wants to worsen with the reintroduction of binding arbitration), they will no longer be able to offer Palo Alto a lower cost alternative to what we have not.

But at this time, Cal Fire makes its business by operating a more efficient, fiscally disciplined operation than the cities that outsource to them. We should absolutely outsource to Cal Fire, save a bunch of money, and make the pension problem someone else's to manage, since the city government shows no appetite for anything but continuing to kick the can down the road for future generations to pick up.


Mike says: "What use to be a proud and noble profession has now been disgraced and ridiculed by people that do not understand its cause or realize the sacrifice that it requires of a person who chooses it."

Mike: what about the sacrifice that working taxpayers make to afford a firefighter the ability to retire in his early 50's making over $100,000 per year for life, for performing a low accountability job that is statistically much safer than construction, farming, manufacturing, and many of the other jobs with equal degree and training requirements? How many private sector workers get to keep their job after even if they're terrible at it? Why are the $200K per year Alameda firefighters who stood on the beach and watched a man drown (only to blame "budget cuts") still employed?

Web Link

Public employees feel entitled to this treatment on the backs of a working public that has to work until 67 and retires with about 1/4th the benefit?

I am for paying everyone what they are worth in the market. A great science teacher should make 200K, while bad teachers should be fired quickly. A firefighter should make just enough that when there is an opening, we get 5-10 qualified applicants and not 500+. The market number is probably about half what it is now, or around $100K total compensation.

The beauty of outsourcing is that it lets the market deliver efficiencies that your local politicians do not have the backbone or the intelligence to pursue.





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Posted by The Shadow knows......
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 19, 2014 at 11:56 am

This is an interesting discussion, with a few salient points from both perspectives.

The question that occurs to me is why don't those critics who feel this is such a generously rewarded career so easily performed simply apply for a position next time there is an opening?

Couldn't afford the cut in pay and still be able to live in Palo Alto?
Unable to compete successfully in the applicant pool?
Philosophically opposed to taking compensation they feel is not deserved?

Hmmmm..........


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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 19, 2014 at 12:29 pm

The Shadow makes a loaded comment which is completely exposed by one simple market statistic: there are 500+ applicants for every position when a firefighter job opens up at its current compensation level.

"Couldn't afford the cut in pay and still be able to live in Palo Alto?"

Not relevant. The city is not required to pay anyone "enough to live in Palo Alto" any more than McDonalds is. The market should decide what someone gets paid. If nobody is willing to work for "sub Palo Alto" rates, the cost of employing people will go up.

"Unable to compete successfully in the applicant pool?"

This doesn't appear to be discouraging anyone, as the number of applicants would indicate. Granted, the average taxpayer in Palo Alto has a graduate degree that would mean nothing when applying for a firefighter position, and taking a tax-generating engineer or other professional out of circulation to do the job that a high school graduate can accomplish would be bad for everyone. In practice, any city job with over 500 applicants applying is probably going to someone's cousin.

"Philosophically opposed to taking compensation they feel is not deserved?"

N/A -- see 500+ applicants per job.


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Posted by The Shadow knows....
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 19, 2014 at 1:22 pm

@ Taxpayer -

So, why haven't YOU applied?

There are hundreds of applicants for jobs in many areas here locally - Google, Facebook, etc. Does that mean they are overpaid? Should their salaries and benefits be cut?

I do agree with you that the Firefighters retirement is quite "generous" and perhaps should be revisited. I just think your overall perspective is a bit over the top........


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Posted by A Noun Ea Mus
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 19, 2014 at 1:32 pm

ahh the modern day Marie Antoinettes show their colors. "Let them earn a market rate" "let's outsource everything" "there are 500 applicants for every opening" (so let's pay minimum to get one applicant?), "they're uneducated", why not just "F..ing animals bring it on"? In a few years I predict a tsumani or union activism, worker upheaval will sweep the country. I can't wait to her the indignant outcries then. Just like how the McCarthy era lulled people into thinking they could intervene anywhere in the world at will, a combination of insurgent anti-imperialism and a heroic war fought by the Vietnamese put that in a new perspective, your little perceived victories over established and mostly lethargic unions will meet a similar fate. I can't wait to hear then your indignant cries.


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Posted by NO-TO-BINDING-ARBITRATION
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2014 at 1:54 pm

> In a few years I predict a tsumani or union activism,
> worker upheaval will sweep the country.

Based on what? Are you going to point to the so-called Rust Belt of the East and Mid-coast? Are you going to show us all of the abandoned factories that once hired millions—that now sit idle, in large part because Unions drove up the cost-of-labor, and eventually, hobbled the management with never-ending work rules so that it was just easier for the owners to give up, or move to places where the Unions had no grip?

Are you going to point to the railroads, or the merchant marines, as your example of how Unions can ultimately create a workers' paradise?

Unions have been the toys of "leaders"—not the rank and file. The Mafia and the Communists were able to take hold of these organizations with little trouble. The rank and file did know, or didn't care, who was at the top of these organizations.

Why would any good person ever want to take orders from people who are only interested in themselves (like Jimmy Hoffa), or some criminal organization—like the Mafia. And let's not forget that the Mafia is still in control of some labor unions in the NY and NJ area.

What's more likely to happen is that we are going to see more machines in places that might be susceptible to unionization—and more people will be without jobs, standing on the outside, looking in. The failure of people to fail to see that Unions always kill the golden goose rather than solve all of their problems certainly is a recurring theme in this picture.


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Posted by A Noun Ea Mus
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 19, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Ahh but if capital can cross borders in it's quest so can labor. It will be worse than what you imagine (for you and your class anyway).


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Posted by NO-TO-BINDING-ARBITRATION
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2014 at 2:28 pm

> Ahh but if capital can cross borders in it's quest so can labor.

There was a time that this was true--but not any more. Too many "social" costs that now make any worker more of a liability than an asset. Certainly true of government employees these days.

If anyone were to calculate the cost of hiring an employee, training him/her, paying him/her for twenty-five years of service and then fourty years of pensions payments that will increase year-after-year--then the cost of a single employee (Union) is likely to be in the range of five-ten million dollars. Trying to see the value of the labor that demanded this vast sum for payment of services rendered--not easily done.

It's very unlikely that as China continues to industrialize that workers will seek refuge in that country. Japan is out of the question, and it's pretty sure that countries south of the US border are not likely to be looking for mass immigration, just because some captial might decide to build a plant, or factory, there.

Sorry .. but technology, and common sense, has rendered your romantic notions of labor unions moot, and sterile.


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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 19, 2014 at 3:21 pm

The class war types posting here are willing to die on the hill for $200K per year firefighters who work two days a week, do a job less dangerous than average blue collar work, and retire at 50 on the taxpayer dime.

Meanwhile, to fill the inevitable budget gaps that trough-feeding of this magnitude creates, we raise taxes. Not just "soak the rich" either, but the most regressive, harmful to the poor tax that exists: sales tax, has increased almost 10% (from ~7.5 to ~8.25 depending on your city) by Prop 30 and Santa Clara county Measure A.

IF there is a class war brewing, its the fed up private sector taking the unproductive, overcompensated public sector to task for its decades of inefficiency. Why do you think the firefighters' featherbedding ballot measure failed so miserably? And the binding arbitration vote?

Hiding behind the labor-stacked courts will and should get the whole operation outsourced.


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Posted by To taxpayer
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 19, 2014 at 4:41 pm

There are a thousand applicants because the city has minimal requirements to try to get a diverse group of people to hire from. About 95% of the applicants are not fully qualified. Would you rather have a 19 year old kid fresh out of high school with no life experience come to your house at 2am to treat you or your loved one? Or would you rather have someone that has life experience, paramedic experience, college education and someone that knows what they are doing? Because your logic wants the city to hire the very minimum qualified person. I'd rather have someone in my house with age and experience because my life and my children's lives are worth paying a little extra for a better service.


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Posted by Times are changing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2014 at 5:13 pm

To to taxpayer,

Most of the 911 calls are medical. Most cities use a private paramedic service that is more than qualified. The plus side- no pension costs, no medical costs, no overtime costs, no sick leave or vacation costs, no hiring costs, no maintaining ambulances costs, no binding arbitration costs.


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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 19, 2014 at 5:41 pm

I'm not a fan of unions. My experience has been if you work hard, rewards will follow. And when I was around work environments with unions, the laziest workers with the worst attitudes were the loudest union supporters. But I'm OK with having unions in private industry (as long as there are right to work laws). Most corporations have learned to neutralize the unions. If the unions become too successful they become a parasite and damage or destroy the company. Eventually the company dies and the workers lose their jobs.
But I'm not OK with government unions. There is not natural adversary in the system. The unions fill the coffers of the politicians, who reward the unions with higher pay, benefits, etc. It is a perpetual cycle. I support outlawing all government unions and other ideas like binding arbitration. If the workers don't like their situation, get another job.
A good place to start in Palo Alto is to make sure Shepherd is not re-elected. She has been a big supporter of the special interests (unions and developers) and has placed the demands of the special interests ahead of the taxpayers. Gail Price is even worse than Shepherd, but fortunately she has decided not to try to to get re-elected.


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Posted by To times are changing
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 19, 2014 at 5:46 pm

What's your point? That comment above says nothing about ambulance transport. All fire engines have EMT's and paramedics to start treatment well before an ambulance arrives. Palo alto's ambulances make lots of money for the city. Enough money that it pays for itself. All of that pension cost, medical cost, overtime cost, sick leave or vacation, hiring cost, ambulance cost. Roughly 4 million dollars a year and that number will keep on getting bigger.


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Posted by Wayne Douglass
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 19, 2014 at 5:58 pm

>Are you Peter Thiel?

At last, the real Mark Weiss shows himself! Not that there hasn't been humor in this forum, but most of it has been unintentional.

When I was a boy, I was lucky enough to see a historical newsreel on TV of Will Rogers, who had just returned from a tour of the Middle East. Interviewed by a gqggle of reporters, who knew that Will Rogers could not help but provide good copy, one reporter asked him if he had considered running for public office. Rogers demurred, saying he could not compete with the profesional comedians in Congress. "Every time they make a joke, it's a law," Rogers said. "And every time they make a law, it's a joke."


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Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 19, 2014 at 6:10 pm

The discussion on this thread doesn't make a lot of sense. The issue is really about City Council's mistake in handling the ballot measure. Voters already decided by a clear majority of 66% that binding arbitration should be eliminated for the police and firefighters from the city charter.

According to the law, the city had an obligation to "meet and confer" about the elimination of binding arbitration with the police and fire unions before placing the measure on the ballot. The unions told the city and council that they were required to do so. So did the current city attorney. Larry Klein, as member of the PSS and council member, said they were wrong. Now, years later, the PERB says that Klein was wrong and that because the city violated the law by holding the vote before a "meet and confer" the repeal of binding arbitration by the voters was invalid and should be declared void.

The city could appeal the decision, but the law is mostly settled in this area so the city would eventually lose in court. With a loss, binding arbitration will be restored for the police and fire unions in Palo Alto. There really isn't that much more to the story.

If there is a lesson here, it mostly involves ignoring wishful legal advise from people who obviously don't know California labor law.


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Posted by NO-TO-BINDING-ARBITRATION
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2014 at 7:12 pm

> With a loss, binding arbitration will be restored for the
> police and fire unions in Palo Alto.

At which time, the matter would be placed on the ballot again, with the same results as the last time it was put before the voters.

Binding arbitration is a disaster for the taxpayers. If the Council can not manage the affairs of the City correctly, then it falls on the shoulders of the residents to do the job via the ballot box.

The police and fire departments are employees--no more. If they believe that through a union they can cease to be employees, then we will have to deal with this in the political arena, one more time.


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Posted by balance of power
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 19, 2014 at 9:01 pm

"At which time, the matter would be placed on the ballot again, with the same results as the last time it was put before the voters."

Maybe. Maybe not. I would love to see what the ballot looked like after an impartial ballot process rather than the City writing whatever bias they want into it. In the Maybell Measure D, City ballot bias easily cost the No side 15 points, just judging by how much wider the margin was in a similar SF election where they have an impartial ballot process. That genie's out of the bottle, and firefighters could wage that battle at the same time and maybe there would be a different outcome. Maybe not. But I think if we had an impartial ballot process the result wouldn't be as predictable as that.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of another community
on Aug 19, 2014 at 11:50 pm

Thank you Martin for informing me on what an opinion was, I thought that I was statng my opinion when i made the post earlier.

À few innaccurate facits that I have seen on here today:

1. Firefighters are uneducated high school graduates that apply and receive thr job.

Firefighters are not only highly educated, but also have many skills and traits that are taken from thierprevious employment.

2. Firefighters work two days a week.

Firefighters work an average 56 hour workweek, not sure how you can get 2 24 hour days into that.

3. Firefighters retire at 50 with all of their salary.

A Firefighter may retire at 50 if they choose to, but that would mean he/she would have to have been hired at 20 which most are not,

4. The City Pays the retirees salary out of the General Fund.

The City and employee both pay into a CALPERS account for retirement. The funds for retirement comes from this fund that is grown by investment,

5. There are hundreds of applicants that apply for this job when it is posted.

Just because you want to do something doesn't mean that you can. I want to fly the Space Shuttle, but that isn't going to happen for me.

Hundreds of applicants are often whittled down to a select few after a written test, a manipulative test, a psychological test, and drug test. then you have to make it through the Fire Academy and Probation,

6. Outsourcing is not always cheaper and may not always give you the results that you expect. Look at the Santa Clara County EMS Authority outsourcing AMR to Rural Metro, Rural Meteo has had to file banckruptcy after that RFP.


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Posted by Firefighter/Medic
a resident of another community
on Aug 20, 2014 at 8:27 am

To City Council,

Palo Alto Firefighters will NEVER give up binding arbitration! Stop wasting our time and yours. Now, lets get back to negotiations.


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Posted by Wilson
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2014 at 9:08 am

@Mike ..

Thanks for taking the time to point out postings with which you disagree. While it's true that some of these postings are not particularly well crafted relative to accuracy—your responses assume many facts not in evidence, and are, for the most part, as inaccurate as the postings to which you object.

Let's start with your opening salvo:

" Firefighters are not only highly educated, but also have
many skills and traits that are taken from their previous employment."

This statement would be impossible to prove, even on a good day. What exactly constitutes "high education" to you? The City's HR job posting for Firefighters requires only a high school education. It's quite possible that many of the current roster of firefighters have had up to two years of junior college, but to suggest that many have 4-year degrees, or beyond, is pushing credulity a bit. But please, provide us a link to the Palo Alto HR Department where the educational level of the City's firefighters is summarized.

> skills and traits .. previous employment ..

How could you possibly know this?

By the way, Foothill College offers an EMS preparatory course, which seems to provide successful students enough information to see them through any entrance tests for local fire departments. From having watched a group of these students, I would not call any observed as "well educated". It's my belief that most would not have managed a four-year degree—but that's personal opinion.

I would like to add that the material that these students were studying seemed well targeted for EMS employees. It's not clear, however, if much of this material is actually applied by these folks, once on the job.

> The City Pays the retirees salary out of the General Fund.

I did a search of all the postings, and can't find the words "General Fund" other than in your posting. Could you point out the posting to which you are objecting. As it turns out—the City does may its "contributions" to CalPERS from the General Fund.

> 5. There are hundreds of applicants that apply for this job when it is posted.

You are supposed to be pointing our "inaccuracies". This statement is true. Your rebuttal is not particularly appropriate to disproving inaccuracies.

> Outsourcing is not always cheaper

And what evidence can you provide that proves your claim? Your example of the Rural/Metro bankruptcy is not a particularly good one, since this bankruptcy was a corporate-level action, which did not deal with the issues of operations of the local EMS unit. If you have some detailed financial evidence of the local Rutal/Metro unit that would cast a different light on this—please repost.

> retire at fifty ..

While this is not exactly true, as you note—do you have any idea what the typical retirement age for Palo Alto firefighters is? This data is not generally known, but the HR people say, for time-to-time, that the average time of service for PA firefighters is about 27 years. So—it's not that hard to deduce that most firefighters are not too much older than 50 when they retire. But if you believe that firefighters work on into their 70s—please provide us your data.

As to the pensions that public safety people receive—hopefully you are aware that they receive 92% at 30 years, that COLAs drive up their yearly checks by at least 2%, and that many agencies have been spiking their employees' pensions by adding in unused vacation time, and even other cash payouts at the time of retirement. Moreover, firefighters who have been claiming that they are "fit for duty" suddenly declare themselves "disabled"—which allows them to reduce their CA tax liability by about 50% during retirement. All-in-all, public safety people retire a lot earlier than people working in the private sector, and soon after retirement, can easily be seeing checks that are larger than those that the received when they were on the job.

I could go on—but I sense your list of objects to people's beliefs and opinions, about unionized public safety employees will suffer from the same affliction of a distortion, and inaccuracy, which you have accused others.


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Posted by Wilson
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2014 at 9:10 am

> Palo Alto Firefighters will NEVER give up binding arbitration

Interesting. Any reason why?

According to this morning's POST--the City will be appealing the labor board's decision.


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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 20, 2014 at 10:09 am

Wilson

You observe an entry level EMS class at foothill college and you make the assumption that they can't obtain a 4 year degree? Most kids take that class out of high school to either gain experience for other careers or it is the first step to becoming a firefighter. Out of that whole class, there might only be 1 or 2 people that actually become firefighters and that's after they go get their paramedic license. If you want to have a fair debate, please don't bring up the fact that you observed a class and they looked like they couldn't obtain a 4 year degree. Instead of wanting an HR report with college education levels maybe you can go talk to the firefighters. Having a 4 year degree doesn't determine if someone is smart or not.


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Posted by Wilson
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2014 at 10:23 am

> Instead of wanting an HR report with college education
> levels maybe you can go talk to the firefighters.

And how would anyone do that? The HR people have all of the records in one place, and have every reason to be truthful about the data that they release to the public.

Sorry .. but if we are talking about actual educaition levels--then getting the data from HR is the correct procedure.

> You observe an entry level EMS class at foothill college and
> you make the assumption that they can't obtain a 4 year degree?

Yes. Most of these kids were struggling with the material that they were studying, it seemed to me at the time. Of course, EMS work includes more than spitting out facts that have been memorized--but it's doubtful (to my mind) that the students observed by myself at the time would be 4/6/8-year graduates.

> Out of that whole class, there might only be 1 or 2 people
> that actually become firefighters and that's after they go
> get their paramedic license.

And you know this how? Certainly the job placement office of Foothills/DeAnza might be a good place to go to ask about eventual job placement for graduates of their EMS training courses. If the placement is as low as you suggest--then perhaps it's time to blow the whistle on this EMS class, and even refer Foothills to the local DA for investigation of fraudulent advertising relative to this class.

Let's not forget the private sector as employers of the graduates of this course of instruction, also.

> Most kids take that class out of high school to either gain
> experience for other careers or it is the first step to becoming a
> firefighter.

The students I observed all seemed to be in their twenties--not kids who just graduated from high school. But how exactly do you know the backgrounds of the students in this class?




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