Editorial: Firefighters Association resorts to bully tactics

People will die if SLO voters overturn binding arbitration? Please. Such emotional and unsubstantiated hyperbole is absurd, and we’re disappointed that the SLO Firefighters Association would stoop to such threats.

City Councilman Andrew Carter is absolutely correct in asserting that public safety could be in greater jeopardy if binding arbitration were to remain in place.

That could force the city to pay increasingly higher salaries and benefits to public safety employees. And that would leave the city with little choice but to lay off more workers and make other drastic cuts not only in police and fire, but in other departments as well.

Now that truly is frightening.

For as important as police and fire departments are to our well-being, the city has a myriad safety concerns. Poorly maintained streets, deteriorating playgrounds, street trees in danger of toppling in a storm, improperly inspected buildings all pose threats to the public. Heck, a crack in the sidewalk can cause someone to trip, fall and suffer horrific injuries.

The city must ensure that it has enough revenue to safely fund all of its operations. If an outside arbiter forces the city to pay an inordinate amount to public safety workers, then other areas are bound to suffer — and the consequences could be serious.

That’s what led the City Council to revisit binding arbitration and to place the matter before the voters.

Now, the Firefighters Association is preying on the public’s worst fears to counteract that economic reality. The association claims that if binding arbitration is repealed, the city will lay off firefighters, and that will lead to slower response times and to an increase in the “risk of people dying.”

And based on what evidence?

Association President Erik Baskin points to other California cities, such as San Jose and Vallejo, that repealed binding arbitration, then turned around and laid off firefighters anyway. Yet he neglects to point out that these same cities were making cuts prior to repealing binding arbitration.

Vallejo, for example, declared bankruptcy, shuttered fire stations, drastically cut its police department and all that happened prior to the 2010 repeal of binding arbitration.

San Jose laid off 49 firefighters — again, before a 2010 vote to limit binding arbitration.

For that matter, the city of SLO eliminated four positions in the Police Department this year and cut an administrative assistant’s position in the Fire Department — with binding arbitration still on the books.

To imply that the repeal of binding arbitration will lead to further layoffs is fear-mongering at its worst.

We can only wonder: Is the Firefighters Association so desperate that it feels the need to resort to such bullying tactics?