City Council unanimously adopts 'watershed agreement' with firefighters union
by Gennady Sheyner
Palo Alto Weekly Staff
Palo Alto's tortuous struggle with its firefighters union over a new labor contract came to an official conclusion Monday night when the City Council voted unanimously to ratify a three-year deal with the union.
The new contract, which the union ratified last month, followed 16 months of negotiations that concluded in an impasse and binding-arbitration proceedings. It imposes a second pension tier for new workers, requires employees to chip in for their pension and medical costs and, most crucially, scraps the controversial minimum-staffing provision, which required at least 29 firefighters to be on duty at all times.
"This has been a difficult path for both sides," Mayor Sid Espinosa said just before the votes were cast. "It's been a long process and this is very much needed for the long-term health of our city."
Councilman Larry Klein, who made the motion to ratify the contract, cited the Beatles song "Long and Winding Road" to describe his feelings about the new agreement. He said he was "delighted that after all the time and trouble we had in negotiations, that we're finally here."
"It certainly helps our budget and helps us not only achieve savings and have our personnel be more efficient, but it sets the right tone," Klein said.
The council's approval effectively ends the binding-arbitration process that kicked off after the city declared an impasse in negotiations in February. It also forces the firefighters union to make the types of adjustments that other labor groups, including the Service Employees International Union, Local 521, and the non-unionized group of professionals and managers, have been making over the past two years. Both of these labor groups have been forced to accept second pension tiers and requirements that they contribute toward medical premiums.
City Manager James Keene had continuously stressed the need to get similar concessions from firefighters and police officers.
Read more at http://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/show_story.php?id=22904
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