Almanac

News - September 4, 2013

Menlo Park to hold study session on binding arbitration

by Sandy Brundage

The fight to end binding arbitration in Menlo Park is not over. While the City Council voted 4-1 to approve a new contract with the Police Sergeants Association that makes only slight changes to the binding arbitration process for misconduct, the council also agreed to hold a study session to look at alternative ways of handling disciplinary appeals.

Casting the lone dissenting vote on Aug. 27, Councilwoman Kirsten Keith said the changes don't go far enough.

"I really think that binding arbitration is broken, and I think it needs to be removed," Ms. Keith said.

Other council members defended the new process, which allows the city and union to select an arbitrator from a pool of retired San Mateo County judges, if the parties can't agree on an arbitrator chosen from a list provided by an outside agency such as the state mediation service.

But the arbitrator's decision, even if factually or legally wrong, would still be final.

Councilman Rich Cline described the changes as taking "the first step towards resolving some of the arbitration issues" while preserving a productive relationship with the police union. "At least we won't have some guy (from) Reno making the decision," he said, referring to the previous process which allowed out-of-town arbitrators.

Mayor Peter Ohtaki pointed out that the PSA contract was for one year, giving the city and union time to discuss binding arbitration in a collaborative manner.

The city has had two appeals to binding arbitration in police misconduct cases during the past five years, according to Human Resources Director Gina Donnelly.

One case made the news despite state confidentiality laws keeping the public in the dark when the Almanac broke the story of veteran officer Jeffrey Vasquez, who was reinstated by an arbitrator despite being caught naked with a prostitute in a motel room and reportedly admitting it wasn't the first time he had hired a hooker for sex. The arbitrator also awarded him $188,000 in back pay.

The Almanac was also able to obtain 17 redacted decisions from multiple California jurisdictions. The reversal rate? About 59 percent. Arbitrators reinstated the officers nine times, and shortened one suspension. They upheld terminations in the remaining seven cases.

Academic studies of similar binding arbitration cases in Chicago and Houston show approximately the same reversal rate.

Retaining binding arbitration this time around may have allowed Menlo Park to negotiate better financial terms with the union, including no salary increases for the next year. The PSA contract sets retirement benefits for new police employees at 2.7 percent of their highest salary at age 57. Current officers may retire at 50 with 3 percent. As a result of the reduced benefits, police employees hired after Jan. 1 will pay 11.5 percent into CalPERS; current employees pay 12 percent, according to city staff.

The city also established a labor management advisory committee that will meet quarterly to talk about issues such as pensions and arbitration.

Comments

Posted by reno 911, a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 3, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Sandy, the new process allows the city or union to select an arbitrator from a pool of retired judges visiting from any county, not just San Mateo, you should watch the video once more. The next arbitrator could very well be a retired judge visiting from Reno.


Posted by Misinformation, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 4, 2013 at 6:13 am

City Attorney Bill McClure read the language of the contract during the meeting and indicated it only allows for a retired judge from San Mateo County Superior Court.


Posted by Sandy Brundage, Almanac Staff Writer, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 4, 2013 at 9:40 am

The contract specifies that it is a retired judge from San Mateo County. The council asked Mr. McClure to clarify that during the meeting.

Sandy


Posted by information, a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2013 at 9:51 am

A retired judge from San Mateo County Superior Court is not the same as a retired San Mateo County judge.


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