Almanac

News - July 9, 2014

Menlo Park reaches agreement with employee union

by Sandy Brundage

Menlo Park has reached a tentative agreement with the Service Employees International Union, which represents about 134 city employees.

The one-year contract includes a 4.5 percent pay raise and four hours less paid time off, and maintains employee contributions toward retirement benefits at the levels set in 2011. The union's members last received raises in 2008, according to the city's staff report.

As it did during negotiations with the police sergeants union, the city decided to keep using binding arbitration for misconduct cases, but with a few tweaks. The union contracts bifurcate the appeals process, using one procedure for grievances, such as labor violations, and another for appealing discipline more severe than a letter of reprimand, such as suspension or termination.

The city and union would now be able to select an arbitrator from a pool of retired San Mateo County judges, according to the contract. But the arbitrator's decision would still be final.

Another change is the creation of a labor-management committee that will meet at least once per quarter to discuss retirement benefits and related potential future cost increases.

The staff report estimates the SEIU contract will cost the city an additional $904,000 a year. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposed SEIU contract on July 15.

Vasquez case

The Almanac broke the story last year about the arrest, firing and reinstatement of veteran Menlo Park police officer Jeffrey Vasquez, that shone a spotlight on the failures of the binding arbitration system.

The officer, fired after being caught naked with a prostitute in a motel room in Sunnyvale and reportedly admitting that it wasn't the first time he'd solicited a hooker for sex, was reinstated through binding arbitration and awarded $188,000 in back pay. He remains employed by the city.

Were the Vasquez case to occur under the new arbitration process, it would end the same way should the arbitrator rule to revoke the officer's termination.

Binding arbitration decisions in police misconduct remain confidential unless both parties agree to release the information.

The Almanac obtained 17 redacted decisions from multiple California jurisdictions and found that in 10 of those cases, arbitrators reversed the discipline decision. 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 showed approximately the same reversal rate.

Comments

Posted by Clarification Please, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 9, 2014 at 8:56 pm

In August of 2013, the city council voted 4-1 to a one-year contract with only the PMA, which is just the management within the police department. Has there been an agreement with the POA in that time? Does the SEIU contract have anything to do with the PMA contract? Does SEIU have binding arbitration, or is this something only the police have?


Posted by Sandy Brundage, Almanac Staff Writer, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 10, 2014 at 7:26 pm

The city is still negotiating with the POA. The SEIU also has binding arbitration.


Posted by More Clarification, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 12, 2014 at 12:30 am

This is very difficult to follow. In August of 2013, the Daily Post reported that the council kept binding arbitration for the PMA. In December of 2013, the Almanac reported that council tweaked the arbitration process during contract negotiations with police unions (plural). If the council approved the contract with the PMA and POA in late 2013 (as the Almanac article indicates), the POA contract cannot already be up for negotiation.

[ Almanac: Dec 12, 2013 ] Jeffrey Vasquez, who got his job back despite being fired for getting busted naked with a prostitute in a Sunnyvale motel room, and despite reportedly admitting it was not the first time he'd solicited a hooker for sex. He appealed the termination through binding arbitration and was reinstated with $188,000 in back pay. [ ... ] The Menlo Park City Council tweaked the arbitration process during contract negotiations with police unions this year, yet retained the binding clause. Web Link

[ Daily Post: Aug 29, 2013 ] The Menlo Park City Council has approved a contract with the city's seven police sergeants that keeps binding arbitration, a tool police detective Jeffrey Vasquez used to get his $160, 000-a-year job back after he was arrested on-duty naked in a motel room with a hooker dressed in a catsuit. The council voted 4-1 in favor of the new agreement with Councilwoman Kirsten Keith clearly opposed to keeping the controversial arbitration process.
Vasquez got his job back, plus $188, 000 in back pay... Web Link


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