Police union wants to cuff SLO’s hands

Group seeks restraining order to keep binding arbitration off ballot

acornejo@thetribunenews.comMay 10, 2011 

The San Luis Obispo Police Officers’ Association is seeking a temporary restraining order against the city in its latest attempt to delay the City Council from putting two ballot measures before voters.

Those measures seek to repeal binding arbitration and change the current provision that requires voter approval to make changes to the city’s retirement offerings.

Binding arbitration — the rule that allows public-safety employee unions to have a third-party arbiter decide wages and benefits if labor contract talks stall — was added to the city charter after winning the support of 57 percent of the voters in 2000. It has been used once by the police officers union but not by the firefighters.

The police union’s attorney filed a request in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Monday seeking an injunction that would prohibit the San Luis Obispo City Council from taking any action regarding the two measures being crafted by the city for an August ballot.

On Tuesday, Judge Charles Crandall continued the case to next Monday — saying that he needed more time to read through the documents filed by both the union and the city.

The City Council is expected to approve a resolution at its meeting Tuesday calling a special mail-only ballot election for Aug. 30.

The latest legal filing by the police union comes after a civil suit filed May 3 alleged the city is ignoring its obligations to the union regarding the ballot measures and that the council’s decision to put the measures on the ballot violates meet-and-confer rules that the city must adhere to.

City attorney Christine Dietrick is resolute that the ballot measures do not trigger collective bargaining requirements that the city must abide by.

“The city’s position remains the same,” Dietrick said. “The subject matter of both ballot measures is outside the scope of bargaining, and the city does not have an obligation to negotiate with the group before placing (the measures) before the voters.”

City Councilman Andrew Carter — who has argued that repealing binding arbitration is necessary to allow city leaders to make the fiscal decisions needed in the face of a looming budget crisis — called the union’s attempt an affront on democracy.

“At heart, what the union wants is for the democratic process to be subject to labor negotiations,” Carter wrote in an email.

“In essence, the union is trying to turn democracy on its head,” he wrote. “The union wants the people and council to be subject to the union instead of the union and council being subject to the people.”

SLOPOA President Matt Blackstone said that it is not the union’s intention to keep voters out of the process.

“It is not that we are trying to stop the vote,” Blackstone said. “This is about the council wanting absolute authority to do what they want when they want — which is a major concern.”

The council has until June 3 to call an August election, which would cost taxpayers $81,660, according to city staff.

Attorney Alison Berry Wilkinson, who is representing the union, has said that the lawsuit is not meant to prevent the measures from going to the ballot but to allow enough time for what she maintains is a required discussion between the city and the union.

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