During Tuesday’s election, voters in the city of Palo Alto were strongly in support of Measure D, which repeals the city’s binding arbitration policy so that outside arbitrators no longer have the final say when there is a labor dispute involving police and firefighters. The Daily News describes the measure’s fate as a “closely watched ballot initiative that was seen as a test of the clout of public unions in a Democratic stronghold.” The Palo Alto City Council decided to place the issue on the ballot after nearly two years of spirited debate, which was met with immediate backlash from the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1319. In the end, over two-thirds of voters cast their ballots in favor of Measure D, which means a provision in the City Charter from 1977 will be scrapped. Unions have been strongly opposed to the measure because they have argued it strips labor of its collective-bargaining rights and critics have included the Democratic Party of Santa Clara County, Vice Mayor Yiaway Yeh and Councilwoman Gail Price. Palo Alto Online reports:
“Tony Spitaleri, president of the firefighters union, said Tuesday he was disappointed with the results of the election and attributed it to misinformation and mischaracterization of firefighter salaries and benefits from the media and from the "Yes on D" camp. Spitaleri said it's too early to tell what impact the repeal of binding arbitration would have on labor negotiations between the city and the union. ‘We were hoping the information would get out correctly,’ Spitaleri said. ‘We were dealing with facts and hoping people in Palo Alto would have a fair system. Unfortunately, it's the mood of the country.’”
Supporters of the measure say binding arbitration ties their hands when it comes to implementing reforms and by repealing the labor policy, the city would be able to impose contract terms. Proponents have also raised concerns about rising public-safety expenditures. Council Member Greg Scharff was among the strongest supporters of Measure D and commented the following on the outcome: “I'm obviously pleased. I feel that the people of Palo Alto understood the issue. And I thank everyone for their vote. People who took the time and looked at it got it." In cities like Vallejo and San Luis Obispo, voters have also repealed arbitration provisions.