State judge tosses SLO ballot measure, restores binding arbitration
March 7, 2014
A California administrative law judge has overturned the results of a 2011 city of San Luis Obipso election that eliminated binding arbitration for police officers and firefighters.
Last week, California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) Judge Valerie Pike Racho voided the results of Measure B, which passed with 73 percent of the vote in Augusts 2011. Measure B eliminated binding arbitration from San Luis Obispo’s charter. Racho’s decision restored binding arbitration to the city charter.
After the passage of Measure B and Measure A, a pension reform initiative, the San Luis Obispo Police Officers Association (SLOPOA) filed an unfair practice charge with PERB. The POA asserted that the city did not uphold its duty to bargain prior to sending the binding arbitration issue to the voters.
The POA promoted binding arbitration after its representatives and the city failed to agree on negotiations regarding multiple issues. For example, union representatives argued to require the city to provide one year of health benefits for family members of police officers or firefighters killed on the job. The request was denied.
On Feb. 28, Racho upheld the results of Measure A but overturned Measure B, ruling that the city violated the California Meyer-Milias-Brown Act by failing to make a good faith effort to negotiate with the POA prior to placing Measure B on the ballot.
“The city had an affirmative duty to consult in good faith with the POA before it introduced Measure B to the voters,” Racho wrote in the ruling.
City Attorney Christine Dietrick argued that previous court rulings exempted the city from needing to negotiate prior to the election. The POA also waived its right to bargain by repeatedly delaying discussions, Dietrick argued in the PERB case.
The city attorney likewise claimed that San Luis Obispo can amend its charter with voter approval. Racho ruled, though, that California general law trumps local measures.
Racho’s ruling found Measure A exempt from the pre-election negotiation requirement because the initiative in itself did not change employee benefits.
Measure A amended the charter to eliminate the city council’s need for voter approval to alter or terminate its contract with CalPERS, the state’s retirement system. Measure A passed with 74 percent of the vote, and the council later negotiated pension cuts for city employees.
The city has 20 days to appeal Racho’s ruling. The council will meet in a special closed session hearing Monday to discuss the matter.