Across California, communities like ours are dealing with understaffed fire departments and even brownouts that put homes, businesses and lives at risk. No one wants to see the same in San Luis Obispo.
That’s why San Luis Obispo’s firefighters have offered our partnership in helping the city balance its budget without compromising public safety. We have forgone salary increases and offered pension concessions. We are willing to agree to reasonable compromises to cut costs — and we have put forward ideas for doing so.
But we won’t compromise where the safety of our personnel and the safety of San Luis Obispo families are concerned, and we are confident that our city’s residents agree.
That’s why the decision to hold a costly and distracting special election when we should be working together to solve our budget problems is so disappointing.
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Rather than shedding light on the real issues at stake, The Tribune’s opinion pages have offered readers a lengthy discussion of what the binding arbitration issue is not about (“Binding arbitration ballot is only about what’s right,” March 6). We think San Luis Obispo residents deserve to know that binding arbitration is first and foremost about our community’s public safety.
Eleven years ago, San Luis Obispo firefighters were part of a community coalition that worked to improve public safety by adding a “binding arbitration” provision to the city’s charter. Binding arbitration is a straightforward, fair, negotiating process that has several benefits for our community. With binding arbitration, firefighters and police officers must show up to work, even in the absence of a contract, so our community is assured of consistent, rapid emergency response.
Binding arbitration encourages both the city and public safety unions to come to the table to find common ground, rather than walk away and trigger a lengthy arbitration — as evidenced by the fact that binding arbitration has been triggered only once in 11 years.
Most importantly, binding arbitration prevents the city from unilaterally imposing contract terms — such as unsafe firehouse staffing levels — that compromise public safety.
Proponents of the August ballot initiative falsely contend that the binding arbitration process is primarily about salaries. They’re wrong. Binding arbitration is an impartial negotiation process that recognizes one abiding priority: keeping our fire stations staffed and our streets protected.
In fact, salary increases for public safety workers that took place under binding arbitration — and when the economy was strong — were similar to those negotiated before binding arbitration.
Eleven years ago, a compelling and successful grassroots effort encouraged voters to stand up for the public safety services provided by those who serve our city with unwavering devotion. We are confident that a few narrow interests will be unsuccessful in their efforts to strip away protections on the community’s public safety.
At a time when our community should be working together to solve our budget problems, a hasty move to the ballot is divisive and senseless.
City firefighters stand ready to work toward serious solutions for balancing our budget, even as we must work to defeat efforts to undermine the community’s public safety.
Erik S. Baskin is president of IAFF Local 3523 for San Luis Obispo City Firefighters.