Voters approve Measure D in Palo Alto

November 9, 2011 7:40:09 PM PST
Unions around the country are seeing both victory and defeat. At the polls, voters were asked about binding arbitration rights during tough contract talks.

In Ohio, voters defeated such a measure on Tuesday, but in Palo Alto, arbitration for police officers and firefighters is now gone.

Voters gave Palo Alto firefighters and police officers the right to binding arbitration 33 years ago. City officials say it has been used six times -- but now, it's no more. With 67 percent of the vote, arbitration was rescinded by voters through Measure D on Tuesday.

"I think the voters were thinking about fiscal responsibility," said Greg Scharff with the Palo Alto City Council. "They were thinking that (the) city council needed to have the ability to make these choices, rather than a third-party arbitrator who doesn't know Palo Alto well and has no accountability."

The union is disappointed by the outcome.

"I'm sure the economy has been a factor," said Brian Baggott with the Firefighters Union. "City budgets have been strained as of late. They made their decision, and we respect that."

ABC7 also reached out to the Police Officers' Association, but we could not get a comment.

Palo Alto now joins San Luis Obispo in taking away arbitration for police and fire departments. The issue is now under study next week in Santa Rosa.

Palo Alto's city manager doesn't know if there will be any cost-savings. However, supporters of Measure D believe it will help.

"A lot of retirees don't have those same benefits," said Measure D supporter John Schniedwind. "I think they are expecting the public sector to reduce the future costs."

Joan Brennan, a retired federal judge, voted against the measure.

"I don't think that the idea of saving money is the paramount consideration that we should have for everything that comes up," said Brennan. "Sure, you can always save money by not doing this, that and the other thing, and you can weaken your democracy."

As with any election, there are bound to be some hard feelings, but the hope in Palo Alto as well as in other communities where the issue is coming up is that everyone will eventually move on.

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