WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa panel recommends softening arbitration language


Santa Rosa’s police and fire fighters deserve to have contract disputes settled by a third party, as long as the city can truly afford it.

That was the determination Thursday of the panel exploring changes to the city’s by laws, which since 1996 have required public safety contract disputes to be settled by a panel of three arbitrators.

Supporters of the measure say it puts police and firefighters – who unlike other workers are not allowed to go on strike – on an even playing field with city negotiators.

Critics claim the requirement, particularly the provision saying workers are entitled to pay and benefits comparable to similar cities, gives the unions too much power and is responsible for soaring compensation levels for the two groups.

But the 21-member Charter Review Committee felt tweaking the arbitration process would be better than scrapping it altogether. The panel voted to accept changes that were crafted by a subcommittee, a group that included leaders of the police and fire unions.

“I think we get a lot with this bargain,” said panel member Doug Bosco.

The committee accepted three major changes to the charter language. One is to clearly define what the city’s “ability to pay” means. Arbitrators are currently told to consider this factor in their decisions, but City Attorney Caroline Fowler has said that language is too vague.

The new language, if put on the ballot by the City Council and approved by voters in November, requires the arbitrator to consider a number of factors regarding the city’s financial health. These include layoffs of city workers, a declaration of a financial emergency, a deficit in the city’s general fund, an inability to pay its debts, the condition of the city’s roads, parks and other infrastructure, and the city’s bond rating.

Another change would reduce the arbitration panel from three to one, if both sides agree, in an effort to save money. Another would also restrict the arbitration process to labor contract disputes with unions, not personnel matters raised by an individual member.

The executive boards of three unions representing public safety workers signed a letter supporting the changes. Tim Aboudara, a spokesman for the Santa Rosa Firefighters Union, said the subcommittee worked hard to craft language everyone could agree on.

“In our opinion, there was really no stone left unturned here,” Aboudara said.

The measure passed 12-3.

Several members noted that if binding arbitration were repealed, public safety workers would still be subject to a flawed and costly “fact-finding” process recently approved by the state Legislature for all public employees.

Committee member Bob Andrews, who voted against the measure, made an impassioned appeal for the panel to repeal binding arbitration outright.

“I think this is the most important vote of our entire work here,” he said.

Andrews argued strenuously that repealing binding arbitration made more sense than trying to tweak it. Cities like Vallejo, Palo Alto and San Luis Obispo all determined that repeal was the best option, he said.

He noted that since 1996, police and fire compensation levels have skyrocketed and the fire department gets 1,500 applications for a single position.

Andrews made a motion to repeal binding arbitration outright, but it was rejected by the same margin, 12-3. Panel members Ann Gray Byrd and Ida Johnson also voted with Andrews against revisions and in favor of repeal.

“Bob Andrews is way off base,” said Alan Schellerup, president of the Santa Rosa Police Officers Association, after the meeting.

He said neither the city nor the unions have ever sought to use the process, and noted police officers in the city are paid 6 percent less than their counterparts in comparable cities.

Asked if the unions would have challenged repeal at the ballot box, both suggested it would have been likely.

“Thankfully, we do not have to make that decision,” Aboudara said.

14 Responses to “Santa Rosa panel recommends softening arbitration language”

  1. Big Fish says:

    @ Union Rep

    How convincing you can be with so few words. Based on your response post I am convinced more than ever than unions should be abolished. For the posters interested in understanding arbitration ( as well as mediation), including it’s long history in the America dispute resolution process, it would more informative to do a Google search.

  2. Tracy says:

    San Jose did the same thing and now they regret it.

  3. Outraged says:

    Union Rep… you folks were humming a different tune when you were out knocking on our doors begging for support from the public for your binding arbitration measure. Now that you have what you wanted, we’re all apparently too dense to deserve a better explanation of how it benefits us?

    I can’t speak for anyone else on this forum or in our community, but you folks have seen the last in the way of any support from me. Charlatans, all.

  4. Vowel Movement says:

    “You clearly have no idea how Binding Arbitration works. Any attempt to explain it would be dismissed. Since you are uninformed and or misinformed, you are not part of the solution.” ~ Union Rep

    We’re all ears Mr. Rep. As we all seem to be uninformed or misinformed, give us a reasonable explanation as to how binding arbitration serves the community at large. To assume that we are incapable of understanding is hubris in the extreme. Use this opportunity to change some minds rather than declare us all as “not part of the solution”.

  5. Union Rep says:

    Your clearly have no idea how Binding Arbitration works. Any attempt to explain it would be dismissed. Since you are uninformed and or misinformed, you are not part of the solution.

    As for abuse of government employees? I am a rep for one of the largest unions in the bay area, not SEIU. Civil service commission has no teeth. The city or county government doesnt have to follow the civil service rule if they don’t want to and there is not penalty.

    I have represented members here in Sonoma County who have been fired for being the wrong gender, for being too short, for being the wrong color and for sexual harrassment for a variety of reasons. If they dont put out, they dont promote… Sound like the corporate world? The local governments see employees as a resource to be exploited and they little to fear from another government agency, except for the unions. The unions make sure both sides know the law and make sure they follow it or it is a violation of their contract, which could involve the courts if they break that law. Unions are needed now, more than ever with out of control, over paid managers and department heads. They would ignore the law and seriously abuse their employees if it were not for the unions. As a matter of fact, some still do, but they are held accountable, to the courts, through union representation.

    You may hate unions, that is not my problem. You may hate government employees, still, not my problem. I am sure if all the unions were abolished tommorow and all services were contacted out to the private sector at a savings of 80%, you would just find the next bunch of peolple who made a little more money that you, and you would hate them, and fight for their downfall. Nothing helps a bad mood like spreading it around.

  6. Big Fish says:

    This is yet another attempt by the unions to have more control than they already do. Based on the article the parties have failed to consider other dipsute resolution hybrid methods that are used in labor conflicts. Methods such as arbitration then mediation or mediation then arbitration and nightbaseball arbitration. Clearly because of the conflict of interests the city must have three neutral arbitrations with no conflict of interest. One arbitrator is to suspectible to corruption which already in the minds of taxpayers. What the county needs is leadership for all taxpayers and having Democratic actitvitist attorneys on the panel only shows the same good old bouy system at work.

  7. Arbitrate This says:

    The police and fire unions have essentially given Santa Rosa the sleeves out of their vests on this one.

    What is the penalty for an arbitrator who ignores the city’s financial difficulties and rules in favor of all of the union demands? Nothing is the correct answer.

    This whole flimflam changes nothing. Costs will not be contained. In fact, the city will remain in fear of taking anything to arbitration because of the certainly they will loose and will pay for their blunder.

    Another clear victory for the boys in blue and another clear loss for the taxpayers of Santa Rosa.

  8. Follower says:

    I just don’t get it.

    Everybody KNOWS what a scam Public Employee Unions are and why.

    NOBODY has ever explained even vaguely what past, present or future “employer abuses” warrant Public Employee Union protection.

    THE GOVERNMENT DOES NOT, HAS NOT AND WILL NOT “abuse or exploit” it’s employees.

    So why do they NEED Union “protection”?

    Truckers, brick layers, electricians, plumbers, nail bangers, etc… working for private companies who have proven time & time again that given the opportunity they will abuse and exploit their employees to squeeze every nickel out of them… OF COURSE THEY SHOULD HAVE UNION PROTECTION!

    But a CEO has NO fear of loosing his job if the Union backs someone else for CEO.

    The Union can only demand so much before the company collapses under the stress of Union contracts. (Except General Motors who just raped their shareholders to pay off the Unions courtesy of President Obama!)

    It’s time to pull the plug on this ridiculous charade and STOP PRETENDING that Government Employees need protection from their employer!

    They don’t!

  9. Robert Fuller says:

    The City Council Majority’s back room deal with public safety has paid off for Sawyer and Olivares. This obvious public show with Sawyer’s political friends Herb Williams and Doug Bosco manipulating the Charter Review so their candidates can try to claim they have “solved’ the public safety pension crisis when in fact they made a fix last year is laughable. Do they think voters are that stupid that we can’t see what’s going on? No way am I voting for Sawyer or Olivares.

  10. Money Grubber says:

    Reality Check: You’ve said some things in the past that I do not agree with.

    But your current statement that we have lost control of the local (and state and federal) government is exactly correct.

    Any government that has run itself into debt to the tune of current billions of dollars and has the dishonesty and audacity to lie to us that they can “manage” the problem is out of control and dangerous to us as a free people.

    And, its time we dump the Mayor of Santa Rosa who has a clear conflict of interest in “managing” the monster government since he is pulling int a public safety pension at the same time he is voting on all the related issues including public safety public pensions.

  11. Jim says:

    I’ve written many, many posts following articles about police benefits, excessive government salaries, etc. I’m so tired of all the bickering related to police and fire. I was one of the biggest complainers. It doesn’t matter how outraged people are over the absurd pay and benefits that Santa Rosa police get, nothing will change. Ever. The theft of taxpayer money for excessive salaries, bloated pensions and ridiculous benefits has been going on for a couple decades. An unfunded $110+ million pension liability in Santa Rosa and an unfunded $500+ billion pension liability at the state level doesn’t happen overnight. Whether voters care or not obviously makes no difference.

    It doesn’t matter what side you want to argue for, the liability will continue to grow. Taxpayers will continue to get fleeced by the government.

    Look at the waste in the Parks Department. Department employees are paid excessive moving costs to relocate on the taxpayers dime, then “retire” in the area where they were “forced” to relocate. Nothing happens to the thieves.

    Look at the theft down in Bell by the government. The thieves walk away with the years of stolen money in their pockets and a lifetime pension based on the stolen money. Nothing happens. The unions protect the thieves.

    Look at the massive waste of taxpayer money every year in every department as the end of the fiscal year approaches. The thieves in government waste money at the end of the year just so they get a full budget allocation in the next cycle. If any cuts are mentioned, the thieves cry out that services will be cut. Yet, hundreds of cars and computers, purchased merely to spend budgeted money, sit idle. Then to “save money” the lying governor (Arnold did this a few times) sells these assets. No mention that many were NEVER used, and sold at a fraction of the cost.

    We have legislators complaining they have to work a “second job” to “supplement” their $95,000+ salary. Funny, I thought they were a FULL-TIME legislature. Where does one have time to work as an attorney on the side when supposedly working full-time for the people? Doesn’t matter, no one cares. The voters just re-elect them all again because they do such a wonderful job. Do we have an actual budget in CA? You know, one not filled with lies and exaggerated estimates. I know Congress doesn’t have one. It is an election year so us citizens shouldn’t expect any elected official to take a stand on any issue, because they may not get re-elected.

    Look at the $500 million dollars the state wasted trying to electronically connect all the courts in CA. Yes, $500 million was spent (wasted) on a $1.2 billion project (what!?!?) and then the whole project was scrapped. You think Wal-Mart spent $500 million to create the most efficient inventory management system on Earth? How did CA waste $500 million and GET NOTHING ACCOMPLISHED? Better yet, how did they spend $500 million without ANYONE in the media taking notice? $500 million thrown down the drain. But hey, at least they’ll come asking for MORE TAXES in November to supplement more of this waste and theft. The funniest part is they’ll probably get it by conning the voters with lies about the lack of funds for police, firemen and teachers.

    Do some research on this stuff. Though I can understand how people may think I’m making it up given no government could waste $500 million without someone reporting it. Unfortunately, I’m not making it up.

    So I reiterate…I’m sick of these stories about the pay and benefits of police, fire, teachers, government workers, etc. NOTHING EVER CHANGES. The voters keep doing the same thing over and over. So who cares.

  12. Money Grubber says:

    Big Jim:

    You noted that taxpayers are forced to pay police to hang out in the locker room jabbering as they put on their uniform.

    You should also take notice that every street cop you see is cruising around chatting on his cell phone and NOT watching nor patrolling. Just chatting with his lady friend on our dime.

    Anyone who actually thinks street cops are worth the tax money stolen from us to pay them is out to lunch.

  13. Reality Check says:

    The elephant that the city’s general fund is the pay and benefit costs of public employees. That is, our elected leaders face no budgetary issue more important. Yet, they wish to abdicate that responsibility should a contract impasse occur.

    To any sentient observer, the public has lost control over its own government. Public pay and benefits are kept out of reach with repeated contract extensions that offer nothing more than token givebacks, accompanied with heaps of praise for whatever concessions the unions deem to bestow.

    The reason the threat of arbitration hasn’t actually been used is because its underlying principle requires the city pay whatever other area cities have agreed to pay. So why bother? Just pay up and get on with it. And the city has.

    Absent a voter revolt, it’s game, set, and match.

  14. Big Jim says:

    Just another example of the Public Safety folks pretending to do something helpful, while really entrenching their advantaged position.
    If they’ve never used arbitration, why do the unions fight so bitterly to keep it in place? Because it is a big stick to force Santa Rosa to cave into their demands. Basically, Arbitrators just split the baby and everyone knows it, so the Public Safety just have to demand excessive comp and benefits and they know that in the worst case an Arbtration panel will give them half. The city is so scared, they give them half to avoid the ruling. I also find it petulant of Alan Schellerup, president of the Santa Rosa Police Officers Association to claim they are underpaid when the Police budget has risen 18% from 2004 to 2009 while the city budget rose 10%. Average pay for a police employees is now $151,378 per year and has risen 5% per year for the last 3 years (based on SR budget data). We now pay them to get dressed!
    These are not public servants, they’re Self-Servants.
    Take action, raise your voice in protest and vote against union candidates in elections, or else expect to pay ever more in your taxes.