San Luis Obispo Council seeks end to binding arbitration

February 2, 2011

Voters may get another chance to vote on binding arbitration, a mandate that resulted in public safety employees receiving a 30 percent raise in 2008. [Tribune]

San Luis Obispo Council members Andrew Carter, Dan Carpenter and Kathy Smith voted in favor of revisiting the issue of binding arbitration because of the city’s current budget woes.

Binding arbitration, voted in by the public in 2000, entitles safety worker’s unions to bring in a third party negotiator if labor talks are at an impasse. The city and the unions are then required to abide by the negotiator’s decision.

Union representatives contend binding arbitration is fair because safety workers are not allowed to strike.

If the council votes to put binding arbitration back on the ballot, a majority of voters would have to approve the mandates elimination.

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I find it deeply offensive that some claim that SLOFD and SLOPD response to 911 calls will necessarily deteriorate if compensation is re-aligned to more closely resemble what the public safety employees should be paid based on the open market for their services.

That’s the trump card, huh? If anyone talks about making things more fair, more efficient and more sustainable, the patented knee-jerk response is to claim that emergency response will necessarily be degraded?

How utterly untrue. How utterly offensive.

As usual, the nonsense flows form the public safety crowd. But this is a real simple issue, it has nothing to do with any of self-glorifying rhetoric. It has nothing to do with what the city council did or did not do in the negotiation process.

It comes down to one SIMPLE thing. San Luis Obispo police officers are WAY overpaid and we can’t afford it. No REASONABLE, LOGICAL person can look at the combination of pay and money spent on equipment and not think, “This is insane!” Whether the police can GRASP this concept or not is another thing. Government employees no longer occupy the same reality that the rest of us do. Really, it’s that simple.

If you all can just step away from you anger and finger pointing and try to see the real picture.

Bottom line is the city needs a scapegoat to blame the budget on. The obvious scapegoat is binding arbitration. I haven’t seen an article, a news release, or a statement from the city and/or the press that doesn’t have the words “binding arbitration” in it. How easy is it for you all to jump on their band wagon and point fingers and blame public safety? How easy for you fools to not see the big picture. If any of you did some research you would come up with some very disturbing and ugly facts that it’s not binding arbitration that made our budget what it is today. How about getting a group together and asking the city to answer some serious questions about how they have been dealing with our city funds over the past years? No one wants to jump on that band wagon? Of course their answers would go back to binding arbitration and once again you would believe them. No one wants to stir up cobwebs and those hidden skeletons they don’t want you to know about. Let’s just listen to what the city tells us…they must be telling the truth???…right? Hmmmmmmm! Politics! From the Chamber of Commerce to the city heads.

Funny to me how everyone thinks that just one group of people caused the city to be in a crisis with the budget, when there are so many more groups of people working in the city…who are getting paid much more than public safety. Like…hmmmmmm…let’s take a walk over to the city website and look at the salaries of who are yelling “binding arbitration” and are getting paid a buttload of money. No one wants to bring that up…huh? And what are they getting paid for? To tell you that your police and firemen are getting paid too much?

Next time you need to call 911 for your mom or dad because they fell down and can’t move, or they are having a seizure or a stroke or heart attack…or your son or daughter have fallen down and they are bleeding and you are frantic…or your loved one is not breathing and you can’t get a response from them…or when it’s 3 am in the morning and you hear someone in your house and you know they are not supposed to be there…or you come home to an open door and you see that your house has been trashed…need I go on?

Next time you need police or fire to come rescue you…just remember this one thing…it doesn’t matter at that one moment how much anyone makes…it matters to you that police or fire are on their way to rescue you and your loved ones. Are you going to think about binding arbitration then? Public safety will be there quickly and take care of you and yours without any hesitation about how you feel about them and what you or the city are saying about them. Bash away at public safety…go ahead. But i can tell you this. You are blessed to have the most amazing men and women in public safety in this town who have devoted their careers to you, with the highest quality of caring, understanding and service in the public safety sector. Do you really think that these men and women came to this town and signed up to be your police and fire just because of binding arbitration? Really? Do you really think they had a clue that the city would not want to negotiate with them and they were all hoping for binding arbitration? Come on! They weren’t jumping for joy when the city wouldn’t negotiate. They were not jumping for joy when it went to binding arbitration. Binding arbitration is a crap shoot. No one knows what is going to happen. The city uses it as their scapegoat because they are butt hurt because they didn’t get what they wanted. No one really did. It’s not about the money. You know why? It put a bad taste in everyone’s mouth and now it’s a political nightmare. And it’s being used against the POA. The POA nor the city had no clue of the outcome. That is the only protection that public safety has when the city doesn’t want to play fair. So is it really okay for the city to want to take away binding arbitration and strip public safety from negotiations?

Let’s get serious. We live in paradise. You have the most amazing public safety personnel working for you. Want to rock that boat? Less qualified public safety personnel?

Go ahead…strip them from their right to negotiate…because the city will take full advantage if they don’t have BA backing them in a crisis…I can’t imagine public safety feeling and performing their duties as they do now. Come on…let’s be serious. It’s human nature and the city is stripping moral away because of this. When moral gets low…you tend to not care anymore. How sad is that? But it’s true.

Let’s step outside of the box for a moment and look at the big picture. It has nothing to do with binding arbitration. That is over and done with and neither party knew what the outcome would be. Let me ask you this. If the city won…(won what?)…we would still be in this budget crisis…and then who would they be blaming? Hmmmmm…

Perhaps the city would like to get rid of binding arbitration…the public safety here now…start all over again and bring in less qualified public safety personnel at a lower rate? It’s true…you get what you pay for.

And finally…have you noticed that BA was only used once? Because???? Do your homework!

Epic reply and EXACTLY what I’m talking about. Look here man, I don’t need to do any homework. I’m not seeking to blame the budget crisis on binding arbitration. I don’t need to hear any glorification rant about our “public servants” either. I’m gonna say this one more time, and very clearly, YOUR SALARIES ARE ASININE! Is that clear enough for you?

So what, we should give you everything you want because you are a “public safety” officer? What kind of self righteous indocrination do they put you guys through?! You aren’t that freakin important, got it? You can be replaced at a lower cost, got it? Your jobs AREN’T THAT DANGEROUS.

One of the sad truths of live…we are all replaceable.

I don’t think that SLOPD & SLOFD personnel realize just how gluttonous their compensation packages appear to others. I also don’t think they understand that others realize there is a huge difference between being a cop in SLO versus Compton or a firefighter in SLO versus Chicago.

They work in a low-rise country club (time for a Jamba Juice run!) yet they expect combat pay and benefits and the respect earned by those working in far more difficult conditions. Sorry folks it just doesn’t work that way…

The City Council wants to revisit the issue because of the city’s current financial woes? Let me see if I understand this… The City Council hired a paid negotiator (anybody wonder at what cost?) to bargain with the POA. Both parties knew the rules – there was an 800 pound club (BA) in the corner that either party could use. The City Council either instructed or allowed their paid negotiator to walk away from the bargaining table. The City Council picked up the club, knowing full well there were only two possible outcomes on every issue before the arbitrator; he would find for or against the City. On the pay issue, the arbitrator would either include the two comparable cities that the POA wanted, or he would include the two comparable cities that the City wanted. The City Council knew what the certain consequences of either ruling would be. Either ruling had a cost certain attached to it. This is pretty simple math – the City Council knew the impact before their negotiator invoked BA. And now they want to revisit the process as if the process is to blame? That’s ludicrous! The City Council invoked the process!

Let’s remember the rest of the story here. There were about eighty issues taken to the arbitrator. The arbitrator ruled in the City’s favor on the majority of those issues. That seems to have been lost in the City Council’s attempt to divert attention away from their own actions. Unfortunately, the City has a pretty dismal reputation when it comes to bargaining in good faith. The City’s lack of good faith commitment to the collective bargaining process initiated the BA initiative. It’s self-serving and disingenuous for the City Council to call into question the tool they themselves used.

If you doubt the City Council’s intent, recall the figures displayed on the PowerPoint presentation at the CC meetings. The amount they ‘budgeted’ (and publicized) for pay in these negotiations doesn’t even meet the City’s last offer and if I recall correctly, would not have covered the city’s obligation if the arbitrator had found in their favor. Who’s zoomin’ who here?

>>”Who’s zoomin’ who here?”

You write as if the city (thus, the taxpayers) deserved to get screwed.

The taxpayers should not get screwed by a union-written binding arbitration charter amendment. The amendment is badly written and needs modification or repeal.

And, face it: If the POA hadn’t taken the taxpayers to the cleaners, this backlash probably wouldn’t exist. Keep that in mind.

Not at all. The taxpayers deserved and had a reasonable right to expect the CC to act in their best interests. I don’t think the Council did that. The Council had an obligation to the citizens to stay at the table and negotiate the best agreement they could. The Council made the decision to walk away and their decision had foreseeable consequences. Had the arbitrator ruled in the city’s favor on this one issue, BA wouldn’t even be on anybody’s radar. The SLO taxpayers have a right to be upset – at the City Council.

(1) The taxpayers had a right to expect the council to act in their best interests. Yes

(2) Did the council do that? I’m not sure. Our interest is to provide services and not get raked over the coals. Perhaps the union negotiators were being obstinate? Perhaps the city was. I don’t necessarily buy the union line as they have a vested self interest.

(3) The council had an obligation to stay at the table. Yes; and no. If the union took an extreme position just for the express purpose of painting the city as uncompromising, then it worked. Not sure the city could have gone further or should have.

However, painting the picture that taxpayers should only be upset at the city while the POA runs away with a bag of money? No. The POA leveraged their position and took us to the car wash.

Binding arbitration should be repealed or re-written. The POA can only blame itself for being such a bright dot on the radar. Everyone knows they got more than was reasonable, EVEN IF the city played a role in causing that.

Binding arbitration should not be all one party or the other. The arbitrator should be able to choose a compromise.

That’s an interesting view. Let’s take a hypothetical situation in which a list of seven comparable cities are agreed upon to determine compensation. Both parties agree on five of the seven comparable cities, but there is disagreement on the remaining two; the POA wants A and B; the City wants C and D. Let’s say the arbitrator is able to choose a compromise and chose A and D, for example. If I understand your statement correctly, then that compromse decision would be binding on both parties, and that would be OK?

First, I disagree with most all of the “comparable” cities to begin with. But that is irrelevant to the past arbitration.

It appears that the arbitrator CANNOT choose a compromise. They are required by City Charter to side with either the POA or the City. The ability to mediate or mandate a compromise SHOULD be allowed (and is not) under binding arbitration. If I were to support any version of binding arbitration a compromise option would have to be a component.

Such a version of binding arbitration might be a reasonable compromise between my views and binding arbitration proponents. However, in my view the employer should have control. I don’t expect my gardener to enforce his terms upon me. If the taxpayers want high quality services they need to pay what that requires. However, the employees should not have the power to dictate terms–only to work or walk. I believe taxpayers want to keep the professional servants we have and would pay fairly to do so. I strongly doubt any POA member was ready to quit if they didn’t receive their $70,000 (to my recall) retroactive pay check or the 25% raise.

My opinion would, of course, not prevail; however, a compromise is needed and I think it would be wise for the unions to offer a re-write before a full repeal is on the table. Just a free suggestion because I support a repeal and I think a repeal is very possible at this time.


Who’s zoomin’ who here? Let me spell it out for you. The police are screwing the citizens. The fact that they feel entitld to the salaries they are taking home makes me ILL.

Does that excuse the city council? Nope, but that doesn’t really matter. None of this has to do with the city council not bargaining in good faith. It has to do with BLATANT self-interest.

Unfortunately, the world is pretty much governed by self-interest. Short of the few truly heroic and selfless acts that people perform, families, individuals, groups, countries and companies all make the choice in any given situation that benefits them best, given the information they have at the time.

Wouldn’t it be a pity if the Council’s self-interest at the start was to create an atmosphere in which BA would be called into question? Just askin’….

Likewise, isn’t it a pity the POA took an “all you can eat” position and now the very tool that got that is under scrutiny? And, isn’t it a pity that Fire never got a bite at that juicy apple since the POA may have sucked it dry?

We can posture both ways on this. We can argue all the fine points.

However, the voters generally know the outcome was overly generous and injurious to the city, and therein lies the fate of binding arbitration. If repeal makes the ballot, the P.R. battle to win will be much more difficult than obtaining it in the first place.

(1) This version of binding arbitration is flawed. It requires an “all or nothing” decision. Fair outcomes are not all or nothing.

(2) PEOPLE and LOCATION make SLO the happiest place. No one ever moved or vacationed here because they read about the great fire/police services–and the services are largely excellent.

(3) The purpose of public safety–in the purest sense–is to ensure the ECONOMIC VIABILITY of the city. This occurs via providing for safety, minimizing crime, and ensuring adequate fire suppression, which allows people, families, and businesses to thrive. Binding arbitration, in the one-sided flawed form we have, is an economic liability which has negatively affected and continues to threaten our economic viability.

(4) The council should put this on the ballot. The argument to be understood is that the public at large didn’t put it on the ballot the first time. It was brought and signatures gathered by the union proponents. Why should the public be burdened with creating a petition and collecting thousands of signatures? THIS is exactly what the council is elected to do. Don’t worry, the public is the only entity that can vote to remove it so concerns about the public’s will being followed are duly addressed. If it is only a complaint of a “selection minority” then it will fail at the ballot.

In summary: This isn’t the binding arbitration we thought we were getting. It turned out to be a no compromise, one party or the other solution. It costs us dearly with the lopsided–and even retroactive–police ruling that cost millions and vanquished the anticipated Measure Y benefit. Finally, times have changed. Money is not just tight–it is in major deficit. Binding arbitration and other tools against the public’s will need to be removed. OR, one may just consider that binding arbitration might just go all one way AGAINST the next union that invokes it.

I’m not so certain that I would agree that the services in SLO are excellent or even close to excellent. It took paramedics 22 minutes to respond to that accident at the bottom of the grade on Monday. If bystanders hadn’t been there to assist Mr Estrada when he started having a seizure 10 minutes after the accident, who knows? So much for the great first responders and the monopoly they have created with SLO ambulance it took them even longer. Anybody that suffers from a cardiac arrest or severe loss of blood in SLO is going to end up DOA for certain with that kind of response.


(1) The Cuesta Grade is not within city limits, and I don’t even know that SLO City responded to that accident, do you?

(2) A highway traffic jam from an accident severely blocks emergency vehicles.

(3) SLO Ambulance is not part of the Fire Department.

(4) Seizures (epileptic) are almost never fatal, and for those that suffer, can be quite commonplace and “non-emergency”.

(5) One incident does not substantiate a pattern.

It took almost two hours for the sheriff to get to the Los Osos murder scene and I believe 911 was called within minutes of the shooting. That obviously gave plenty of time to the actual killers to hide/manipulate evidence. That was a MAJOR problem.

What is wrong with you people? Los Osos has NOTHING to do with SLO PD!!!

OMG, this is what kills me. Cindy, you have NO IDEA what you are talking about. You don’t even know who you are trashing!

If that accident would have occured witnin the city limits the SLO Fire Department would have been on scence, WITH PARAMEDICS on thier engines, in LESS THAN 4 MINUTES. That is how the SLOFD rolls. That is what the citizens of SLO pay for. It is second to none service and this city is very fortunate to have it. When you call 911 out of the city limits you are SCREWED! Cal Fire shows up with NO medics and you have to wait for the ambulance which yes can take way too long. The SLOFD has no monopoly over SLO ambulance………..SLO ambulance has the monoploy over your city. Thank GOD for your city firefighters/medics!!!!!!!!!

SLORIDER: Do you have “proof” that the binding arbitration that was used did not allow ANY sort of compromise? Do you have access to the findings that you could bring here to back up your assertions? If you are correct, fine, let’s go with that; but to simply state that a thing is so does not make it so.

bob– as I posted already (below):

City charter section 1107:

“The Board of Arbitrators shall decide each issue by majority vote by selecting whichever last offer of settlement on that issue it finds most nearly conforms…”

Further, it ridiculously uses a Bay Area price index:

“…changes in the average consumer price index for goods and services using the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose index…”

Further, the “comparison cities” that were proffered by the Police Officers Association are all very rich, and in most cases, much more urban than SLO. Most of these cities lie within the commute distance of the Bay Area, if not within the Bay Area itself:

– Gilroy

– Pleasanton

– Napa

– Santa Barbara

– Santa Cruz

– Salinas

– Monterey

– Petaluma

– Santa Maria