City of Vallejo Repeal of Binding Arbitration, Measure A (June 2010)
Measure A eliminated the binding arbitration employee dispute resolution process that had been in use in the City of Vallejo.
When Vallejo voters went to the polls in June to decide whether or not to revoke the city's current binding arbitration process, their vote was closely watched not just in California but across the country, as increasing scrutiny was being given to the role played by what some see as overly generous public employee pension pay-outs in the financial crises faced by more and more municipalities.
- These final, certified results are from the Santa Clara County elections office.
At the time of this election, California had about 478 cities. 360 of them were "general law" cities. In 2003, the California Supreme Court ruled that binding arbitration for employee contract negotiation could only take place under certain conditions which are not met by the general law cities. As a result, none of California's general law cities used binding arbitration.
117 of California's 478 cities are charter cities. Because of the 2003 state supreme court decision, only charter cities can use binding arbitration. About 24 of them, including Vallejo, used binding arbitration to resolve labor disputes at the time of the election.
Under Vallejo's binding arbitration in 2010, 189 of Vallejo's public safety employees earned more than $100,000 a year in 2009, not including health and retirement benefits. The highest paid earned $312,000.
Text of measure
The question on the ballot:
|Shall Section 809 of the Charter of the City of Vallejo be repealed to remove the mediation/arbitration process, commonly referred to as binding interest arbitration, that permits an arbitrator, without City Council approval, to make the final decision to resolve disputes between the City and its recognized employee organizations on all matters relating to wages, hours and working conditions and instead to use the method of resolving such disputes set forth in state law.|
Councilmember Schivley comments on binding arbitration in Vallejo
In addition to Citizens for Vallejo, the group that came up with the idea of tackling Vallejo's binding arbitration process as a way, in their view, to solve Vallejo's pressing financial problems, Mayor Osby Davis, Councilwomen Stephanie Gomes and Joanne Schivley also supported repealing the city's existing arbitration process and had said they would write and sign arguments for the official voter's guide urging residents to vote "yes" on the repeal question.
According to Joanna Schivley, "Binding Arbitration was a key factor in Vallejo being forced to file for bankruptcy. Non-elected individuals-arbitrators- interfered with our tax dollars and required us to pay our employees more than we could afford. And even when Binding Arbitration wasn't triggered during city employee union contract negotiations, the threat was always there-a gamble many councils refused to take."
Public employee unions opposed Measure A. Police union president Matt Mustard Davis also criticized the city for the $500,000 it cost to conduct the June election on the ballot measure.
City councilman Michael Wilson opposed the measure. He said that the way the ballot question is worded slants in favor of repeal, and was planning on possibly writing an argument for the official voter's guide opposing it. Wilson, a Democrat, was also a candidate for the California State Assembly seat held by Noreen Evans.
Retired Vallejo police officer Kevin Kelley opposed Measure A, saying, "Measure A is a bad move for the Vallejo community; it does not hire one single police officer, it does absolutely nothing for you and I in making us feel safer in our homes."
The editorial board of the Times-Herald opposed Measure A. They said, "We find especially troubling that proponents seem unconcerned by the prospect that Measure A's passage could propel many fence-sitting employees to bolt to other cities, or retire."
The Vallejo City Council voted 7-0 in May 2008 to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, attracting national headlines for becoming what was at that time the largest city in California to file for bankruptcy. Vallejo spent 74% of its $80 million general fund budget in 2007 on public safety salaries, which according to the San Francisco Chronicle, is "significantly higher than the state average."
Another contributing factor to the city's dire financial situation that has been cited were future pension outlays required under the city's generous public employee contracts. These were thought not to be sustainable going into the future.
Path to the ballot
City council measure
On February 9, the Vallejo City Council voted by 6-1 to place a "repeal of binding arbitration" measure on the June 8 ballot. Councilman Michael Wilson cast the one "no" vote. The city's vote came after a citizen's petition to force the issue onto the ballot was found to be several hundred signatures short of the number needed to place the measure on the ballot.
The Vallejo Charter Review Committee met for several months in 2009 to debate about whether to recommend a ballot measure to delete from the city charter the current language that it contains that sets out a binding arbitration process for employee dispute resolution that some have grown to believe is overly burdensome and expensive.
The Vallejo City Council discussed various specific ballot measure proposals at its January 26, 2010 meeting, ultimately settling in on the language they approved in their February 9 decision-making session.
A citizen's group, Citizens for Vallejo, circulated a petition in 2008 to qualify a similar measure for the Vallejo ballot. However, election officials in the city declared that their petition fell 201 signatures short of the number required to place it on the ballot. In June 2009, the group filed a lawsuit, Citizens for Vallejo v. Solano County, saying that the October 2008 decision by the city that their petition didn't have enough signatures was an illegal decision.
The group collected 9,600 signatures, but the Solano County Registrar of Voters said that about 2,700 of these signatures were invalid, causing the petition to be about 200 short of the required number.
The ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit said that the Solano County Registrar erred in three different ways in disqualifying petition signatures:
- The Registrar changed the required number of signatures.
- The Registrar invalidated 42 signatures due to an incorrect date on some petition pages.
- The Registrar made a "series of mistakes".
If Citizens for Vallejo had won this lawsuit, their measure could have gone on the November 3, 2009 ballot.
Cost of election
Vallejo, a city of about 117,000 residents, had about 53,000 registered voters. The cost of holding the election was estimated to be about $458,000.
- Solano County board of elections
- Official City of Vallejo website
- Official website of "Citizens for Vallejo"
- Times Herald Online, "'Binding arbitration' heads to the hands of the voters", February 11, 2010
- Times Herald, "Ballot measures may cost city $375,000", June 28, 2009
- News Blaze, "Vallejo CA Should Vote No to High Pensions", May 20, 2010
- Times Herald Online, "Measure A to decide who gets final say in Vallejo city contract disputes", May 20, 2010
- Times Herald Online, "Vallejo police union, mayor Davis at odds over arbitration initiative", February 11, 2010
- Times Herald, "Measure A is a bad move", May 17, 2010
- Times Herald, "Vallejo Measure A: This distraction won't help the city", May 23, 2010
- San Francisco Chronicle, "Vallejo votes to declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy", May 7, 2008
- USA Today, "Economy hobbles Calif. town", July 22, 2008
- Times Herald Online, "Vallejo weighs change in binding arbitration during labor negotiations", January 25, 2010
- Contra Costa Times, "Citizens group sues Vallejo over rejection of its petition", July 5, 2009
- Solano Times Herald, "Court date Aug. 12 in measure dispute", July 30, 2009