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Palo Alto Elimination of Binding Arbitration Requirement, Measure D (November 2011)

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A Palo Alto Elimination of Binding Arbitration Requirement, Measure D ballot question was on the November 8, 2011 ballot for voters in the City of Palo Alto in Santa Clara County, where it was approved.[1]

Measure D's approval means that Palo Alto will no longer be required to refer disputes with city employee labor unions to a panel of arbitrators.[1]

Specifically, Measure D repeals Article V of the Palo Alto City Charter. Article V had required that a three-member arbitration panel decide disputes over wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment for the City's fire and police (public safety) employees.

Binding arbitration has been a part of Palo Alto's City Charter since 1978.[2]

According to Mercury News, Measure D "is seen as a test of the clout of public unions in a Democratic stronghold."[3]

Voters in Vallejo and San Luis Obispo have recently repealed binding arbitration provisions.[3]

Election results

Measure D
Approveda Yes 10,319 67.61%
Election results are from the Santa Clara County elections office.



The official ballot guide arguments in favor of Measure D were signed by:

  • Greg Scharff, a member of the Palo Alto City Council
  • Yoriko Kishimoto, a former mayor of the city
  • Helene Wheeler, a former mayor of the city
  • Karen Holman, a member of the Palo Alto City Council[1]
  • Patrick Burt, a member of the Palo Alto City Council

Arguments in favor

Palo Alto Measure D Arguments - Pro and Con

Arguments made in favor of Measure D included:

  • The existing method of binding arbitration "has resulted in critical decisions being made by 3rd party arbiters from outside of Palo Alto."
  • "These arbiters don’t weigh the overall well being of the city nor even consider fairness to other employee groups."
  • "Palo Alto is an outlier as one of the few cities in the state that has binding arbitration."
  • "Currently, third party arbiters get to make final decisions on critical issues that determine the short and long term financial well being of our city. Unfortunately, these arbiters don’t base their rulings on the financial consequences to the city nor do they weigh whether their ruling is fair to other employee groups who have already had to accept reforms to their salaries, benefits and pensions. Arbiters don’t consider whether an additional union benefit will mean that streets, parks, libraries and social services will suffer as a result. A single arbitration process can cost the city over a quarter million dollars, money better spent on services to its citizens."
  • "In addition, professional arbiters come primarily from union backgrounds. They may be third parties, but they are not neutral and they are typically biased towards the unions in their sympathies and their rulings. Over the years, the mere threat of arbitration has forced the city to make concessions that are fiscally unsound. The results of this system have been financially unsustainable."
  • "Pension costs for fire and police unions are up over 30% between 2009 and 2012."
  • "Total public safety expenses for the city have risen 80% over the last decade while the costs of other city departments have been largely frozen."
  • Fewer than "5% of cities in the state use [binding arbitration]."
  • Scharff, a leader in the "Yes on D" campaign, says that the possibility of binding interest arbitration is always in the backdrop of negotiations with the city's firefighters and this had led to the unions rebuffing the city's efforts to achieve pension reform: "I've been in those labor negotiations. One-hundred percent, the threat of binding arbitration is what drives them."[4]



The official ballot guide arguments opposing Measure D were signed by:

  • Gail Price, a Palo Alto City Council member
  • LaDoris Cordell, , a former Palo Alto City Council member and retired judge
  • A. Yiaway Yeh, the city's vice mayor
  • John Barton, a former Palo Alto City Council member
  • Richard Alexander, an attorney

Arguments against

Arguments against Measure D submitted to the official ballot guide included:

  • "The repeal of binding arbitration would undo 33 years of a system with a proven track record that works."
  • "Police officers and Firefighters do not have the right to strike; binding arbitration is the best alternative and remedy for the City and its public safety officers."
  • "The City Charter requires the arbitrators take into account the City's financial ability to pay before issuing a decision."
  • "Twenty-six states and twenty two California cities provide binding interest arbitration."
  • "The state of Wisconsin eliminated employee's collective bargaining rights recently but kept intact binding interest arbitration for their police officers and firefighters."
  • "Binding Arbitration, in the rare occasions that it has been used since 1978, has proven to be a fair resolution process for the City, police and firefighters."

Text of measure

The question on the ballot:

Measure D: To provide the City with greater control over employee costs, staffing and services and allow the City Council to make final decisions regarding all matters related to public safety employee compensations, benefits, and working conditions, shall Article V of the Palo Alto City Charter be repealed in its entirety, eliminating the requirement that public safety employee disputes be resolved through binding interest arbitration?[5]

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