We served together as elected members of the San Luis Obispo City Council from 2004 to 2008. The two of us were often on opposite sides of issues. But we are of one mind on mandatory binding arbitration. Binding arbitration as now required in the city charter is a distorted way to decide how much our city police and firefighters are paid.
That’s why we believe it should be repealed. We strongly urge you to vote YES on Measure B in the August special mail-only election.
- Binding arbitration is unfair, undemocratic, and simply unsustainable. Responsibility and authority over city spending should rest with locally elected officials, not an out-of-town arbitrator who is accountable to no one.
At its core, binding arbitration is undemocratic, unfair, and economically unsustainable. Here’s why we say that: Unlike mediation, which seeks to forge a compromise between two negotiating parties, binding arbitration requires an outside arbitrator to pick one side’s position over the other’s. No change, no compromise, is allowed. No appeal is possible.
If you don’t like your City Council, you can vote them out of office. With an arbitrator? No such luck. That’s undemocratic.
Those who favor binding arbitration talk about it as a fair way to settle disputes. That’s nice in theory, but not in practice.
Here’s what happened: In 2006, the city council and the police union were at an impasse in labor negotiations. The city had offered a 20 percent cost-of-living pay raise over four years when underlying inflation was 11 percent. The police union wanted more, so they went to binding arbitration. And why not? The union could do no worse than the 20 percent the city council offered, and they might do better.
Incredibly, the arbitrator—who lived in Oakland, didn’t know San Luis Obispo, and didn’t have to figure out what to cut to afford the pay increase—sided with the union and gave San Luis Obispo police pay raises of 30 percent to 37 percent. The raises cost the city an unbudgeted $4 million during the first year. The ongoing cost is $2.5 million annually, which is more than half of the city’s current structural budget gap.
Before the award, San Luis Obispo police were the highest paid force in the county. Now, they’re paid more than Los Angeles police, a fact confirmed by the State Controller’s website. This pay increase violates common sense and is simply not economically sustainable.
To pay for the award, the city council had to eliminate $1.6 million in street and sidewalk improvements, $600,000 in flood protection projects, $300,000 in parks and open-space projects, and $500,000 in public safety projects. That includes having to abandon a pledge to add a new nighttime neighborhood police patrol. Higher pay for police meant fewer officers on the street.
To put it another way: An outsider not elected by San Luis Obispo voters arbitrarily awarded huge pay raises for a few city employees and generated big cuts in services for the entire community.
Binding arbitration is unfair, undemocratic, and simply unsustainable. Responsibility and authority over city spending should rest with locally elected officials, not an out-of-town arbitrator who is accountable to no one.
Police and fire-department labor contracts will expire soon. Binding arbitration looms again. The cuts already made in city services jeopardize the quality of life in this city that we all cherish.
Please put a stop to this disgrace and vote YES on Measure B. Repeal binding arbitration. Restore local control and local fiscal responsibility.
Christine Mulholland served as a member of the San Luis Obispo City Council from 2000 to 2008 and Paul Brown served from 2004 to 2008. Send comments to the opinion editor at email@example.com.