San Luis Obispo’s firefighters union is threatening legal action if the City Council proceeds with its plan to put a key pay and benefit negotiation reform before local voters.
San Luis Obispo City Firefighters Association attorney Stuart Adams claims that the council’s decision earlier this week to put measures repealing binding arbitration and pension protections from the city’s charter on the ballot violates a so-called meet-and-confer rule with the unions.
In a letter delivered to the city Wednesday, Adams wrote that city leaders must consult the unions before proposing changes to the charter.
City attorney Christine Dietrick said the city intends to “fully comply with its legal requirements with respect to all of its labor groups.”
The controversy stems from the council’s 4-1 decision late Tuesday to ask local voters whether to repeal a rule that allows public-safety employee unions to have a third-party arbiter decide wages and benefits if labor contract talks stall.
The council also put on the ballot a measure that would repeal a charter section that calls for voter approval for reducing city employee retirement benefits.
Erik Baskin, president of the firefighters union, said that by putting the proposed repeal of binding arbitration on the ballot, it is clear that the city wants to go back to the same bargaining practices that existed before.
“Which was not fair then and won’t be now,” Baskin said.
Binding arbitration was added to the city charter after winning the support of 57 percent of the voters in 2000. It has been used by the police officers union but not the firefighters.
Prior to binding arbitration, if an impasse was reached between the city and public safety unions, the city was legally allowed to implement its final and best offer.
The public safety unions have said that arbitration is a fair bargaining tool because they cannot strike like other union employees.
Baskin said that the union is not willing to re-open its recently approved contract to discuss the issue.
In late November, the union was one of four labor groups in San Luis Obispo that agreed to forfeit raises and any additional city contributions to their health insurance for one year, saving the city about $490,000 annually.
“We are in a contract we just signed after the city pressured us to put us all on the same team and get through the economic problems,” Baskin said. “At a time when we were willing to come to the table and help the city deal with its financial crisis, they decided to make a drastic move against public safety employees.”
Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.