SLO police union asks state to overturn voter decision

Claim alleges the city engaged in unfair labor practices by placing two measures on city ballot

acornejo@thetribunenews.comNovember 17, 2011 

The San Luis Obispo Police Officers Association is seeking to upend voters’ recent decision to repeal binding arbitration as a means of negotiating wages and benefits by the city’s police and fire unions.

In mid-October, the union filed a claim with the Public Employment Relations Board, a state agency that oversees the collective bargaining statutes with cities, alleging that San Luis Obispo used unfair labor practices by placing two measures on the ballot in August to repeal binding arbitration and negotiate reduced employee retirement benefits without seeking voter approval.

In August, 70 percent of San Luis Obispo voters overwhelmingly passed two ballot measures overturning binding arbitration and allowing the city to create a two-tier pension plan without voter approval.

In all, 7,723 people voted to repeal binding arbitration and 2,905 voted to keep it.

A contentious battle created a divide between the city and its public safety employees before the election. The police union’s claim asserts that the city violated state law and the city charter by refusing to meet and confer with the union before the City Council moved forward with the ballot measures.

A similar claim made by firefighters in Palo Alto was dismissed Tuesday by an administrative law judge.

The International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1319, filed an unfair practice charge against the city of Palo Alto with the Public Employment Relations Board in September. That was before Palo Alto voters on Nov. 8 repealed binding arbitration with more than two-thirds of the vote.

The 29-page ruling issued by Administrative Law Judge Shawn P. Cloughesy confirmed that Palo Alto had met its obligations to the union.

In San Luis Obispo, this is not the police union’s first legal attempt to prevent the repeal of binding arbitration. The police union filed a lawsuit in San Luis Obispo Superior Court prior to the election but failed to get a court order to stop the vote from moving forward. The union’s attorney, Alison Berry Wilkinson, did not pursue the lawsuit after that.

Police union President Matt Blackstone could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The complaint filed with PERB is the union’s latest attempt to derail the removal of binding arbitration from the city’s charter.

City Attorney Christine Dietrick noted in an email Wednesday to The Tribune that she continues “to believe that the city acted lawfully and within its rights and that the continued pursuit of these actions is an unfortunate misdirection of time and resources that could be better spent reaching reasonable resolutions of the very difficult issues facing the city.”

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