Voters strike down binding arbitration | November 11, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - November 11, 2011

Voters strike down binding arbitration

More than two-thirds support Measure D, which scraps 1977 provision from City Charter

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto's longstanding practice of forcing disputes between the city and its public-safety workers to go to arbitration was repealed Tuesday night, as more than two-thirds of the voters cast their ballots in favor of Measure D.

The measure strips the "binding arbitration" provision from the City Charter. The provision, which voters adopted 37 years ago, enabled a three-member arbitration panel to settle contract disputes between management and the unions. It was placed on the ballot by a 5-4 City Council vote after about two years of public hearings and a long debate over whether the provision should be modified or eliminated altogether.

Measure D's passage deals another heavy blow to the city's firefighters union, which was recently engaged in an 18-month standoff with the city over a new labor agreement. The stalemate finally ended in September when the two sides reached an agreement that curtails the union's benefits, freezes salaries and, most importantly, scraps the "minimum staffing" provision that required at least 29 firefighters to be on duty at all times.

The firefighters union, International Association of Firefighters, Local 1319, vehemently opposed Measure D, arguing that it strips the city's police and firefighters of their collective-bargaining rights. Unlike most other city workers (with some exceptions in the Public Works and Utilities departments), public-safety workers are barred from striking by state law. The measure also drew criticism from the Democratic Party of Santa Clara County, Vice Mayor Yiaway Yeh and Councilwoman Gail Price, with many opponents comparing the labor-reform measure to the efforts of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to take away the collective-bargaining rights of state workers.

Tony Spitaleri, president of the firefighters union, said Tuesday he was disappointed with the results of the election and attributed it to misinformation and mischaracterization of firefighter salaries and benefits from the media and from the "Yes on D" camp. Spitaleri said it's too early to tell what impact the repeal of binding arbitration would have on labor negotiations between the city and the union.

"We were hoping the information would get out correctly," Spitaleri said. "We were dealing with facts and hoping people in Palo Alto would have a fair system.

"Unfortunately, it's the mood of the country."

Yeh, who opposed the repeal effort but supported placing the item on the ballot, said he hopes other processes, including mandatory mediation, could help in future negotiations.

"I'm interested in seeing how the process would go forward because we just removed the only local process we had for public-safety employees," Yeh said.

"I think what's most important is that the entire council does value our police and firefighters," he added. "They are valued members of our community, and we're committed to make sure they'll still be treated fairly."

Supporters of Measure D gathered at the home of city resident Tony Glaves to celebrate the overwhelming victory. The measure achieved 7,997 "yes" votes to 3,889 "no" votes by the end of the evening.

Roughly 2,000 absentee and provisional ballots from Palo Alto are still left to be counted, according to Elaine Larson with the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters.

Councilman Greg Scharff, who led the repeal effort with Councilwoman Karen Holman, was among those attending the victory party. Scharff said he believes the repeal of binding arbitration will make labor negotiations much easier in the future because it would force the two sides to work through the collective-bargaining process. He said the repeal of the provision would make prolonged impasses like the one that halted the labor negotiations over the past two years increasingly unlikely.

Repealing binding arbitration, he said, would also help ensure that all of the city's labor groups are treated equally.

"We want to have the best public-safety departments in the country, and we will treat our employees fairly," Scharff said.

Holman had argued that binding arbitration is undemocratic because it takes decisions relating to the budget out of the council's hands and gives it to arbitrators. She said Tuesday that the repeal of binding arbitration will give the city more control over its budget.

"This kind of a result is reassuring and reaffirming of the direction we were trying to take," Holman said.


Posted by Finally, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Glad to hear that Palo Alto voters are not as stupid as the political hacks and the four city councilmen who didn't even want to give the voters a say on this no-brainer. Anyone who voted against giving voters a choice should be defeated in the next election, as should Yeh and Price, who opposed this basic bit of commonsense public policy. A 2-1 + vote after being badly outspent is a mandate

Posted by chris, a resident of University South
on Nov 8, 2011 at 10:28 pm

The firefighters would have been better being cooperative from the beginning. Now they have hurt themselves for the long-term.

It is nice to see their hardball tactics being soundly rejected.

I hope they get the message loud and clear. We are no longer in the 1980's. This is a time of Shared Sacrifice.

Posted by George, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 8, 2011 at 11:32 pm

Palo Alto firefighters elected Tony Spitaleri to be their union leader, and his thinking and well-earned credibility (or lack thereof) led their union to overwhelming election defeats twice within twelve months.

Moreover, fire union tactics and false claims made its members look like self-serving greedy individuals willing to stick it to Palo Alto taxpayers and even other City employees who are union members.

Overwhelmingly, Palo Alto voters weren't buying what fire union leadership was trying to hard sell...$72,000 worth of hard sell. This proves once again that you can't buy an election in Palo Alto.

Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 9, 2011 at 1:45 am

Like a lot of bad legislation -- for instance the first HSR ballot -- there could be a huge difference between what the initiative said and what it will actually do. This might severely impact the quality of our pubic safety -- good workers could leave or never apply here -- so we might actually have to pay more for the same service or worse.

The language was misleading. My dad said he voted for it but he also indicated he was pro Firefighters.

But overall it fouls the air and is like Wisconsin and right wing show boating -- this is not Democratic. The bashing of the working class. If Scharff and Holman run for council again by 2012 we may already be seeing the way this backfires and it could impact their future electability here. I believe in pension reform but think this is ham-fisted and ill-advised.

Posted by Good news, Palo Alto, a resident of Meadow Park
on Nov 9, 2011 at 5:11 am

Delighted that an informed public went to the polls.

This is, indeed, "democratic", Mr. Weiss, ..what it isn't is REPRESENTATIVE democracy, where an elected official makes the decisions, ...making deals with Unions with money NOT his own, for future benefits NOT paid for by him, all the while getting pay-back through union support for the deals. And who pays it all? The taxpayers ( the "working class"), while getting no say in how it plays out.

This is great news, like in Wisconsin... bringing the unions back to the taxpaying EMPLOYER instead of an alliance of foxes and wolves circling the henhouse.

If Palo Alto is awake...I wonder what Ohio did yesterday?

Posted by Good news Palo Alto, bad news Ohio, a resident of Meadow Park
on Nov 9, 2011 at 5:13 am

Too bad..looks like Ohio was snookered again. Makes me have less confidence in the USA..

Posted by Tim, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 9, 2011 at 6:56 am

This will not change anything. No fire stations will be closed and if you don't give the public safety employees decent wages and pensions, they will be hired and trained by Palo Alto and then leave for another city. Why do you thing it was nessarsary to give the police a 30% raise one year. To keep them from going elsewhere.

Posted by Chris, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 9, 2011 at 7:17 am

With 12% state unemployment, hard to believe we cant easily replace public saftey workers who leave Palo Alto like Tim above states. I think the vote shows that voters realize public financies have changed in 30 years. Its long over due that the firefighter get it. Maybe they just need to have a strike and they learn the hard way....

Posted by HERO, a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2011 at 7:29 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Support PD, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 9, 2011 at 7:32 am

Thanks Tim. I like your comment.

And thanks to the fire department who really screwed this whole thing up for the police department. The police department has given up raises the last few years, taken cut backs, they are below staff. Now they have to pay because of the fire department wasn't willing to work with the city.

Posted by It's-Time-For-A-Change, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2011 at 7:45 am

> good workers could leave or never apply here

With some fire departments claiming that there are 500 applications for each open position, it's not likely that the PA Fire Department will have unfilled positions due to the lack of job applicants.

The whole service delivery model needs to change. There is no reason that the City needs to run an Ambulance service. The City needs to ensure that Ambulances are available, from whatever source. If there are no private sector services, then governments need to provide those services directly. Same with Hazmat inspections--these could be done by the private sector, under supervision by a limited number of Fire Department employees. In fact, a regionalized fire department could do all of the Hazmat inspections, and responses, just as well as local fire departments, and less expensively too.

Measure D was not about "collective bargaining rights" as much as it was about Union control of the delivery of public safety services. It was about being able to stop the rethinking of public services due to unsustainable costs.

The voters allowed arbitration via a vote in the mid-'70s, and they disallowed it via a vote in 2011. That's how democracy works.

Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 9, 2011 at 7:48 am

This is just part of the anti union, anti workers mood sweeping the country. Wisconsin has created a model and more and more states and cities are following it. We have had an infusion of right wingers from other parts of the country in the last 20 years, and they are desecrating the progressive and tolerant legacy of this once great city.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 9, 2011 at 8:36 am

@ daniel:

Or perhaps the citizens of Palo Alto realize how incredibly expensive binding arbitration has been on our state? After all, California has lost a lot of those "union jobs" and the state is also in enormous debt.

I don't think that it is correct to blame it on "right wingers," because I don't know if there are enough of them to pass such a measure in Palo Alto.


Posted by Frank, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 9, 2011 at 9:05 am

The unions have already filed unfair labor practices with the state. This will be tied up in the courts for years and cost the the city thousands of dollars!

Posted by Blake, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 9, 2011 at 9:16 am

As I recall Tim, the police negotiated the pay raise you refer to not because officers were going to leave the department, but because that's what it took to bring them up just below the median pay scale of other comparable cities in the Bay Area. The vast majority of officers wanted to remain on the force. They had gone without a pay increase several years before, and most recently have chosen to fore go additional pay increases in an effort to help balance the city budget.

Currently, the compensation for PAPD officers remains in the lower third compared to the other Bay Area cities which both the city and the police association identified for comparison purposes.

Posted by David LL, a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2011 at 9:22 am

David LL is a registered user.

i hope the citizens who voted for this measure don't need PD or Fire services one day..they can put out their own home fire and deal with the crook that is breaking into their home or trying to hurt them..PD and Fire personnel cannot strike and should have a third party to settle disputes with the city, who has never played fair with employees.. PD has given up raises to help the city in these "uncertain times" (PA is raking in the $$) and fail to recognize the good council and city manager love to take $$ and beneifts away from working people, while the city manger gets a home allowance so he can live in the nice community..

this measure is about hatred toward public saftey, maninly the police, who will bend over backwards to help citizens...if you appreciate the work that PD does not bitch about the next ticket you get...

Posted by Hank, a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 9, 2011 at 9:49 am

These dang firefighters are the ones who crashed the American economy, it is only right that they should be forced to pay.

Don't pass a business tax, pass a tax on firefighters and cops.

What do we need those guys for anyway? My house isn't on fire right now!

Posted by Ringsville, a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 9, 2011 at 9:56 am

Ohio was snookered? "looks like Ohio was snookered again"

Vote was 61-39, with millions being dumped in by corporations, CofC, AFP, etc... on the losing side being the only thing that kept it that "close."

In the big issues around the country yesterday, workers rights, liberal causes and recalls all went on to win.

Ohio issue 2, Mississippi "personhood" defeated, Maine right to register to vote, recall of AZ's "papers please" bozo, etc...

Palo Alot? Not so much.

Posted by Tim, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 9, 2011 at 10:04 am

To Blake, you have your facts wrong. They were losing 3-4 police officers per year to other cities because for better wages and benefits. Do you really think the city give the police a 30 % raise (in one year) because they thought it was the right thing to do? No- the city was tired of spending big bucks to train good officers and then have them leave for other cities.

Posted by Ryan, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 9, 2011 at 10:09 am

Good, responsible vote. Iit makes no sense for a well run city to pay a dime over market rate for any service, no matter how well connected politically its members are.

Cops will be just fine. They are paid at or around market rate for the service they provide and the risks they take.

Firefighters fought this measure much harder because they have more to lose. Its well documented that there are often 500+ applicants for any opening, which is the market's way of telling us that you simply don't need to pay close to 200K in total comp/benefits for a job that requires no degree beyond high school, two shifts per week, full retirement at 50, and has less statistical danger than most (much lower paying) blue collar jobs. Throw in the fact that they're largely underworked due to union featherbedding rules (finally removed under the threat of Measure D) and its absolutely ridiculous what we the taxpaying public has been subsidizing. Measure D is step one in righting this wrong. Step two is to vote Gail Price and the other politicians that the fire union has bought and paid for off of the council.

Posted by a guess, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 9, 2011 at 10:49 am

I think the problem is not so much caused by unions trying to maximize compensation. I think it's more that they, by their nature, try to standardize it and remove any objective or "common sense" aspect to compensation decisions.

In this case, most of the actual work the firemen do is not fire fighting. But as qualified firefighters, they need to be paid as firefighters whether they do that work or not. That's a union axiom.

The city's hands are tied w/r to allocating expensive, skilled labor only where its needed. Instead, it must pay everyone the high rates fire fighting deserves for any time put in for anything at all by anyone in the organization. And apparently, firefighters are only allowed to very limited other work during the time they are not fighting fires, which is the preponderance of their time.

As I understand it, a firefighter earns the same if they fight fires 12 hours a day as they do if they fight fires one hour a month or less.

Most of the calls are medical now; we are not allocating our limited resources effectively when we pay firefighter rates for that.

The union, by its nature insisting on standardized compensation for any hours for anyone, prevents efficient allocation of limited resources.

Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2011 at 11:03 am

Good, sensible mandate. The firefighters were over-compensated, way too much.

Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside
on Nov 9, 2011 at 11:44 am

We can toast this small step for sanity in favor of the long abused taxpayer and common man.

Posted by js, a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 9, 2011 at 11:57 am

Has Spitaleri resigned (or been booted) yet? Let the countdown begin!

Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 9, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Removing binding arbitration from the PA charter is a positive, but very small step in the right direction. I am going to leave police out of this message as they have a much different job than fire union employees. Being a police officer requires more skills and can be dangerous. Police enfore the social contract and are vital to a safe community. Having said that, police in many communities abuse their power and lose the support of the community. For the most part PAPD personnel are usually competent and professional.

The fire union is a different matter. Being a member of the PAFD is like winning the lottery for a high school grad. Most of the time is spent hanging except around the station, shopping, planning union strategy, etc. Yet you make $150K a year and work two shifts a week. It is absolutely disgusting that we (taxpayers) have allowed this situation to happen.

The following actions should be implemented:
- Bring fire union pay in to line with national standards ($50 - $60K)
- Change the retirement payout age to the same as the rest of us. They can leave the job whenever (if their are out of shape, bored etc), but they shouldn't receive any retirement funds until approx 67
- change retirement funding from defined benefit to 401k defined contribution
- begin a process of re-thinking the delivery model. Possibly a regional approach, outsourcing etc.

Finally we need to remove the elected officials who work for the unions and not their constituents. Price should be removed from office immediately!

Measure D - Fair and Necessary!! Go Palo Alto!

Posted by sameasyou, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 9, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Why does the public never recognize Police and Fire? No one understands the work they do, work on Holidays, missing Family events, working rotating shifts, and doing what no one else is qualified to do. (Hello, can you pass a background?) The public needs to realize they were the one's who chose to pour all of their Money from the era into the declinging stock market. Take some responsibilty for your own choices and let the Public Service Employees do the job they love and work hard to do!!!!!!!

Posted by Joe Public PA, a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 9, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Shame on people for making this more than it really was: a referendum on the limitations of binding arbitration, which has not turned out to have the benefits it once promised, for all sides. We love our police and firefighters in this town, we have a great force, this is absolutely not at all like what is going on in Wisconsin -- and if it somehow even starts to be, the citizens will be on their side.

Posted by Susan, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Well said sameasyou! People like taxpayer have no clue about what a Firefighter does. They save a friend's house from being destroyed from fire and they used live saving methods in saving my father's life.

Posted by Andrew, a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Tim, people leave the city for other reasons than pay and benefits, working conditions would most likely be the #1 reason. Many times, most of the time the people who leave give up both of these for their own mental health.

Posted by Marty, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 9, 2011 at 2:21 pm

The unions just got screwed! If they don't like what the city decides to offer what can they do? Nothing. What motivation does the city have for trying to compromise? None. The city can always get its way because the workers have no recourse.

I expect the best workers will just leave.

Posted by bill g, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 9, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Tim. Please identify the 3 or 4 police who left the City for other cities in the past several years. The ones who left retired to lock in their retirement benefits or had physical injuries that meant they could not longer serve.

Marty. Any worker always has a recourse if he/she doesn't like their working conditions. They can resign and apply to another agency. The fact that so few have speaks well for their opinion of Palo Alto as a place to work.

Posted by Mike, a resident of Professorville
on Nov 9, 2011 at 3:30 pm

When we talk about changing the service delivery model for firefighters, why is it rarely mentioned that the current model pays firefighters to SLEEP??

Look at any other example of required 24/7 availability (public or private sector) and you usually find four shifts, each one working 8 hours a day for 5 days a week or 10x4 (one or two of which may work an extra few hours, since there are 168 hours to be covered in a week). They spend zero work hours preparing and eating meals, working out, watching TV and all the other non-work things our firefighters do while being paid.

Posted by danos, a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Many of us understand very well what a firefighter does.

But regardless of whether you think they're heroes or layabouts, the bottom line is that there are many, many people qualified and willing to do the job, for far less money and pension benefits.

If the entire PAFD quit, you would have qualified applicants lined up University Ave. There is simply no justification for giving firefighters the outrageous compensation they have come to demand...

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 9, 2011 at 3:42 pm

@ David LL:

So, you think that this vote was about "hate" toward well-paid public servants? There are plenty of states that are non-union and have fantastic police and fire department workers!

While these workers in Palo Alto are worth every penny (and I support their hard work and efforts), there is something wrong when a certain public sector government jobs earn as much as a doctor who has gone through eight (or more) years of education and an additional year (or more) of residency.

While those who place their lives on the line deserve to be accommodated accordingly, taxpayers cannot afford to pay them a doctor's wage. The same is true of all service jobs -- including members of the military.

Those workers deserve our respect, but they also need to know that their work is often a sacrifice for the public good rather than a traditional high-dollar, high-benefit career. Like teachers, most such public workers aren't in it for the "money." They are in it for the "greater good."

I would like to add that my father-in-law is a VOLUNTEER firefighter -- and has been so for more than 20 years without earning a dime. Like the 71% of firemen who are volunteers in the United States, he works hard at his own job and then puts in many hours of service with the volunteer fire company as well.

Of course, it is a great honor to have men and women who have made careers in the fields of fire and police departments. However, the power that they have over their own financial compensation in this state (and community) is enormous. There is something to be said about striking a balance between states without collective bargaining and those with it.

To suggest that our public servants won't work as hard because they lack this power of binding arbitration is a bit disingenuous. Most members of the police and fire forces are highly dedicated to their communities and aren't in it for the money -- even if those union leaders might act or say otherwise.

Posted by David LL, a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2011 at 4:21 pm

David LL is a registered user.


Let's face it, most people do hate the cops...

Police Officers don't make as much as doctors..I have a family member who is an officer and makes about 70k per year(not including OT)..Many people are misinformed about public safety salaries..When you include medical, dental, etc., total comp would be about 100k...the issue with measure D is that fact that public safety personnel will no longer have a means of settling labor disputes with the city..Public safety employees cannot strike and need a third party to negotiate with the city...Volunteering is somthing totally seperate than what the issue is...

Posted by somedontgetit, a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Someone mentioned that this was a victory for the common man. Are there many "common" families in Palo Alto? The cost of living in PA would make a common man tend to believe that the average citizen of PA is closer to the 1% than the other 99%. Based upon the comments, it also seems that this is a victory over the fire department not some financial burden. Consider what you have done while you open your big lavish "common " gifts this holiday, and the families of your public safety workers are -1 for their celebration. But of course that would require you to think of somebody other than yourself for a change.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 9, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Hi David LL,

While $70K may not sound like much to you, it is exceptionally higher in comparison to most jobs that require a four-year degree (or more).

In addition, there are many firemen and police workers who are paid even higher salaries, pensions and benefits than the figure that you mentioned.


"Binding arbitration" has been one critical factor.

I have a sister-in-law who is a doctor and makes about $95K per year. Her husband is a police officer (with a four year degree), and he makes $36K per year. This is in a different, non-union state. However, it took him a while before he was able to get that job because the jobs were scarce and highly competitive. In other words, there are individuals willing to do the same work for much less (half or even a third) than the salary figure that you cited for Palo Alto.

Police and fire service jobs are a noble profession. However, they are also sacrificial professions (like military men or teachers), and not big "money making" professions.

Posted by Donald, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2011 at 5:07 pm

The voters have spoken! Time for the City Manager and the council to:
Reduce the number of Firefighters at night.
Cut the overtime by 75%.
Have the Firefighters and Police pay more of their pensions.
No retirement until age 55 and maxiunm of 75% payout.

Posted by Ryan, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 9, 2011 at 5:07 pm

I think a great solution to the problem is to address the massive work-rule related inefficiencies that the firefighters currently enjoy (and the fire union fights to protect).

Have the firefighters run inspections, patch potholes, sweep the streets, rake leaves at the parks, and undertake any other non-mission critical city work (the kind they could leave half finished if a call came) that needs doing during their downtime instead of sleeping and watching TV at $40 an hour on the taxpayer dime.

Having to work a full shift may require that a normal 8-12 hour shift be the new norm, but that's good if it allows the firefighters to contribute while they're on the clock, as the police do.

Posted by somedontgetit, a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2011 at 5:12 pm


You are right in regards to the compensations your sister and brother receive. Cops in my hometown (in a different state) make about $15 an hour. So why the big gap? In these places that pay significantly less, you can buy a home for 70k. 3k a month will buy groceries, pay bills, pay the mortgage, and maybe even a little left over. That just is not the case here. When time were good nobody did anything for the public servants. When times got tougher, the public servants maintained what they were getting. When times got to where they are now, public servants are trying to be supportive and give up some of the same level they have been receiving. Just because the private sector didn't make fiscally sound decisions, why make your public sector share your burden? I dont think people understand how hard it is to get into a public safety career, and then maintain the training, make split second decisions that the rest of the world will scrutinize for years, and constantly be concerned about a civil lawsuit that puts an unnecessary hardship on your family. they can't just pack up and go somewhere else, it takes months to get hired. If you force unfair contrast upon them, what can they do but grin and bear it.

Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 9, 2011 at 5:44 pm

It's interesting that anti-union measures have been defeated all over the country with the exception of Palo Alto. But of course Palo Altans are so full of themselves and their own imaginary importance that they couldn't be bothered to to support the firefighters and cops, whom, just by reading some of the comments here, barely qualify as full human beings, not having medical, computer science, high finance or law degrees.

Posted by Melinda, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 9, 2011 at 8:35 pm

I am frustrated by the lack of support for firefighters and the vitriol that is shown to these public service employees in the press and in person. I have heard stories of firefighters being accosted in grocery stores, and public buildings by the very citizens they serve. They are accused of being the fault for the decline of the economy in Palo Alto and the reason the Palo Alto coffers are running dry. I find it unbelievable that our public servants are not treated with the due respect that they deserve. Why hasn't the press featured the life of just one firefighter?

Yes on Measure D was just another way to use firefighters as a scape goat and and place the burden on the working individuals in our society. We cannot continue to let our democratic rights be taken away. The fire fighters should have a democratic right to arbitration as a means of protecting themselves against a unilateral decision by the City. They are not allowed to strike - so what voice do they have to protect their rights? To say that arbitration always sides with the firefighters is not true. The truth is that arbitrators are hired exactly for their ability to be balanced and fair. Both sides know this and work quickly to resolve differences because they know the price of arbitration. To say less than this is an insult to the very professionals that have respected reputations as arbitrators. During the last contract with firefighters the City requested arbitration.

I continually see the press report on the high salaries of firefighters, and yet the numbers they use are from those individuals that have been forced to work overtime because the City will not hire more firefighters. Palo Alto firefighters cover a 50 mile radius, (Skyline, Stanford and the Baylands) about 120K citizens, and all with just 29 firefighters! Palo Alto firefighters are among the lowest paid in the bay area. In addition, Stanford covers one third of their budget and the firefighters generate income from their paramedic transport system. Staffing levels have not changed in 30 years, yet the population has increased significantly, there are more senior homes, more businesses and more medical centers. The City thinks it is better to pay overtime and not pay the benefits of hiring additional staff, yet they accuse the firefighters of costly salaries. Firefighters are forced into overtime for public safety reasons.

The average salary of a fire fighter is 80K. The same as many city employees. They suffer mental and emotional burnout. Oftentimes, they are plagued with lifelong physical problems due to the physical nature of their job, and inhaling toxic chemicals. They are continually put in dangerous situations. Their personal lives are often affected because of the hours they work and the strain they bring home with them. They go out on EVERY 911 call. It's not just about the fires. It's the domestic violence calls that are the most dangerous to go on. It's the elderly person that has a crisis in the middle of the night. The young woman that has been raped. The teenager that has overdosed on drugs or alcohol. The worst calls are when they have to show up when a loved one has been killed in a car accident and they have to hold that dying persons hand because no one else is around at 2AM. How about when a firefighter is late for their own appointment because a call came in just before their shift was over, and they have to clean up the mess of someone that just blew their brains out at the Baylands. These are true stories! They are not told in the press, but shared by fire fighters who took on their profession because they heard the call to serve. Not only do they have a calling to help those in need, but they put in countless hours of community service.

Palo Alto firefighters have a longstanding practice of charitable donation and community involvement. In the last two years alone, they have given $35,000 to charities such as: Special Olympics, American Diabetes Association, Movember (for prostate cancer), Alisa Ann Rush Burn Foundation, Create-a-Smile Foundation, Palo Alto Community Childcare and 21 college scholarships. This money comes from selling hot sauce and their union dues (not taxpayer money). Palo Alto firefighters have reached out to the community, largely volunteering their time, with events like: monthly birthday parties for children at Lucile Packard Hospital, “Firehouse Cook” to benefit Palo Alto high school’s athletic programs, support to veterans at the VA Hospital, “Fill the Boot” campaign for Muscular Dystrohpy, Children’s Theater Bbq’s, East Palo Alto Toy Drive, “The Giving Tree”, and “Letters from Santa” program.

Palo Alto citizens need to wake up and support their public service workers. They are here to serve us and they do it proudly with little thanks or appreciation. As one person correctly commented, that firefighter is like an "earth angel". Who else would do that job?
Sure these days, I'm sure there are plenty of people lined up to take these jobs if the firefighters leave, but is this the way to treat the people that serve us.

Just remember these are the people you are going to count on in an emergency! You fat cats should get a clue! Sick and tired of abuse to the working people. Go Ohio!

Posted by so happy, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 9, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Well said Mr. Finally! Can you or someone post the names of the council members who voted "for" and "against" putting up Measure D on the ballot? For those council members who were against putting up the measure, I will definitely vote no to their re-election, because they do not even want us voters/taxpayers to have a say. I can respect different opinions, but it is simply wrong trying to use their elected position to deny the voters a say.


Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 9, 2011 at 10:37 pm

@ Melinda:

No one here is saying that they don't support the firefighters or the police. And, of course, I trust that the firefighters and police will continue to do work without such far-reaching power via binding arbitration.

$80K a year salary (plus VERY good benefits) is a wonderful thing. In fact, it is something that my husband and I both aspire to earn one day. Currently, we live off of less than half of that and with no benefits. However, we trust that our education and strong work ethic will eventually help open some doors so that we can earn such a lofty salary too.

I would point out that there are plenty of police and firefighters out there in states without such extensive collective-bargaining powers who continue to do a great job. Their dedication and performance isn't dictated by the power of arbitration regarding their salary, pension or benefits.

My husband and I support our local law enforcement and firefighters even if we supported Measure D. It isn't a measurement of our support for such public servants. However, it is in regard to fiscal responsibility.

Someone said that "anti-union measures were defeated all over the country." I don't think that this is true. Ohio rejected some state-wide laws (after the unions and pro-union groups outspent their opposition 3-to-1), but Wisconsin supported measures to limit the powers of arbitration. So, I don't know what that person meant about "all over the country."

California is in dire straits right now. The state is perpetually in debt. Instead of taking even greater and more extensive measures to cut the spending or pensions that led to budget deficits, the state simply looks for new and inventive ways to tax us even more.

This is just a fiscal decision made by citizens -- and it doesn't change our esteem and respect for those who have chosen careers in public service (whether firemen, police, military, teachers, etc...).

Posted by so happy, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 9, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Great comments Nayeli, thanks. I wish your family can do better soon, and the economy can turn around soon.

I want to point out one fact (at least in my view), that supporting our public service employees and supporting their union bosses are completely opposite to each other. It is the selfish and greedy attitude of the union bosses who created so many layoffs in the public sector. When funding is not enough, and the union bosses refuse to concede their own compensation, layoffs have to happen, and many of the wonderful junior employees are laid off. The private sector is doing OK now, because the private sector reduced average pay so that more jobs can be saved. The current high national unemploymemt rate is mainly due to the reduction in public sector, and that is due to the greedy union bosses' refusal to share the sacrifice. They would rather protect their own fat paychecks and benefit, than saving the jobs for the junior employees.

Union rule dictates that layoff is purely based on seniority, last-in-first-out. The union bosses are acting against their own junior members. Actually, most junior members probably joined the union through forced union due, not voluntary. The junior members are effectively the human shield for the senior members when economy is bad. The union bosses are the most senior members so they can simply demand, demand, and demand, so to benefit themselves without worrying about job security, since they have so many human shields around them. I can only think one word for the union bosses: hypocrite.

If the union bosses believe they truly represent all their members, they should just change the union due to voluntary, instead of using forced automatic deduction from their paychecks. The union bosses will never dare to do that, because they know they will lose the majority of their members if they do so.

Maybe some union leaderships are good, willing to share the sacrifices when time is bad. I certainly hope so.

I support our public employees. But I am against those greedy union bosses, and I am against the forced union dues, and I am against the last-in-first-out seniority-based rules. I know some junior union members feel the same way as I do, but they dare not to speak out.

Posted by Realitycheck, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2011 at 12:53 am

The saddest thing is that while the media, city council, and managers bring this victory of theirs to all the "brilliant" residents of our blessed city, we fail to see what is really happening. City managers are retiring and coming back as contract workers. Additionally, the city is hiring contract employees and paying them far more than what they pay regular employees, even after you account for benefits and what not. Wait times and turnover for getting permits are ridiculous now! There is no accountability. The city management is paying consultants to come in left and right to restructure various departments. And all of this at the cost of the taxpayers. Then when the money is gone, they just blame the regular employees and evoke layoffs. We all need to make the top dogs more accountable and stop pointing fingers at the workers who actually service our community!

Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 10, 2011 at 6:52 am

The vote for D was the most shameful day in the history of Palo Alto.

Posted by It's-Time-For-A-Change, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2011 at 7:17 am

> The vote for D was the most shameful day
> in the history of Palo Alto.

Get a grip!

Posted by liberal, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 10, 2011 at 12:17 pm

I would normally never have voted for such a measure but watching the FF union behave since the financial crises with a "not our problem" attitude and comparing that to the Police's stance was the turning point for me.
One group can never be so privileged. It's unfortunate that that Palo Alto Police were caught up in this.

Posted by oh well, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2011 at 12:39 pm

I am sure the service will only improve now that Klein and Keene have reduced public service to the same wage and benefit standard as the fast food industry. Hard to claim victory when recent census shows 53% of residents in Palo Alto are renters (transient voters) who most likely will shuffle along when their rents are raised. Palo Alto, once a beacon of government efficiency, has been reduced to outsourcing of services to private contractors and a massive build-up of mid and upper-level managers. Keene was hired on as a yes man for Klein and has since sold out his services to obtain maximum retirement benefits for himself. Once Klein leaves, Keene will be right behind. Only thing left will be the mess they left behind. If voters think deficit budgets are bad now, wait until they get the bill for outsourced contractors paid three times the wages of public employees and managers receiving $200,000 to $400,000 yearly salaries. But all in all, it's what the residents of Palo Alto deserve.

Posted by What?, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 10, 2011 at 1:33 pm

"I am sure the service will only improve now that Klein and Keene have reduced public service to the same wage and benefit standard as the fast food industry."

Where can a fast food employee secure a benefits package worth 200K, and then retire at age 50 and receive 100K per year risk free backstopped by the tax paying public?

Oursourcing services to the private sector is a proven money-saver, given the out of market compensation most government workers receive, as well as the efficiency that results from accountability in the private sector (underperforming private sector workers are fired... how often is a lazy government worker let go?). Any council member whos agenda is to outsource government services where possible, and in the process get the taxpaying public better value for its dollars, has my full support.

Posted by chris, a resident of University South
on Nov 10, 2011 at 9:25 pm


The concept of Shared Sacrifice seems completely foreign to you.

You need to get a clue as we face at least 5 more years of high unemployment. Protecting workers with the sweetest deals will no longer fly.

Please let us know your idea of Shared Sacrifice.

Posted by bill g , a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 14, 2011 at 10:03 pm

It is sad to see so many citizens of good will make statements which compare apples to oranges to justify a position or belief.

Fortunately we have many in this and other blogs who try to make reasoned statements rather than passionate diatribes which are wholly or partially untrue.

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