In a sign that the spat between San Luis Obispo and one of its public safety unions has gone from bad to worse, the union has now taken the city to court.
A civil lawsuit filed by the police officers union against the city Tuesday alleges the city is ignoring its obligations to the union regarding looming ballot measures that would affect future compensation and negotiations.
The San Luis Obispo Police Officers’ Association contends that the City Council’s decision to put measures repealing binding arbitration and pension protections on the ballot in August violates meet-and-confer rules that the city must adhere to.
“The lawsuit ultimately seeks an injunction to prevent the city from moving forward with the issue until such a time we can get legal determination on our rights and ultimately get into negotiations about the issue,” said Matt Blackstone, SLOPOA president.
City Attorney Christine Dietrick said the lawsuit was filed prematurely because the council has not yet taken action to put the measures before voters.
Attorney Alison Berry Wilkinson, representing the union, said the city has made it clear that it plans to proceed without formal discussion with the unions.
“If the city goes ahead without meeting its obligations, then there is public money being spent on something that will be invalidated, and all that money is wasted,” Wilkinson said. “We don’t have money to waste, and we want it to be made clear what has to be done.”
Dietrick said that ultimately the city and the union are in a “fundamental disagreement about what the law is.”
Dietrick is resolute that the ballot measures do not trigger collective bargaining requirements that the city must abide by.
The issue is not to prevent the measures from going to the ballot, Wilkinson said, but to allow enough time for the required discussion.
“It is a matter of the timeline,” Wilkinson said. “The city has said it will have the election in August, and that is too fast for the process to be complete.”
In March, the council adopted an ordinance that allows the city to conduct a mail-only ballot — tentatively planned for August — that may be used for the two ballot measures. However, the council has yet to officially call an election.
The council is expected to do a final review of ballot measures May 17 and vote on the election date then.
The council has until June 3 to call an August election, which would cost taxpayers $81,660, according to city staff.
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 by the police officers union but not the firefighters.
Blackstone said the union has offered to extend its current contract, which expires in December, to assure the council that binding arbitration won’t be an issue in the coming year as a way to prolong the discussion.
“But I can only assume from the council’s actions that they are not interested in the option of taking that extra time,” Blackstone said.
Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.