Court rules in favor of firefighters’ collective bargaining rights

June 13, 2024

“This historic decision overturns years of efforts to pass anti-union legislation,” says 10th District Vice President Gilman

Palo Alto Professional Firefighters Local 1319, along with the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and the California Professional Firefighters (CPF), achieved a significant legal victory last Monday.

As reported by The IAFF, California’s 6th District Court of Appeals ruled that municipalities cannot sponsor initiatives undermining the collective bargaining rights of public sector employees, effectively reversing a lower court’s decision.

The court’s decision was influenced by an amicus brief submitted by the IAFF, urging the reversal of the lower court’s ruling.

“From the beginning, we knew the city’s attempt to break longstanding agreements with its public employees violated our members’ rights, and I’m glad to see the Court of Appeals agreed,” said 10th District Vice President Stephen Gilman.

The decade-long legal battle

This ruling marks a turning point in a legal conflict between Local 1319 and the City of Palo Alto that has lasted over a decade.

The dispute began in 2011 when Palo Alto sponsored Measure D, a ballot initiative aimed at removing binding interest arbitration procedures essential for resolving disputes between public employees and the city.

Although Measure D passed, Local 1319 contested it in the Superior Court of California and initially lost.

However, the recent decision by the District Court of Appeals invalidates Measure D, citing a violation of California’s Meyers-Milias-Brown Act’s “Meet and Confer” obligation.

Brian K.

Rice, president of the CPF, noted: “In California, we’ve seen a systematic attempt by municipalities to break their agreements with public sector employees – first with Proposition B in San Diego and now with Measure D in Palo Alto.”

Broader implications for firefighters and public sector employees

Local 1319 President Joseph Penko emphasized the broader implications of the court’s ruling.

“The Palo Alto Firefighters knew in 2011 that the City of Palo Alto’s attempt to illegally remove our binding interest arbitration was not just an attack on us, but on collective bargaining as a whole,” said Penko.

He added: “We hope that this sends a message to other cities across the nation that when they attack one of us, they are attacking the entire community of firefighters – and we don’t go down easily.”

General President Edward Kelly reiterated the IAFF’s commitment to defending the rights of its members: “If Palo Alto decides to appeal this decision, or any other municipality in California tries to undermine the bargaining rights of IAFF Locals, we will continue the fight.”

Potential future appeals and continued advocacy

The City of Palo Alto has the option to appeal the 6th District’s ruling, potentially bringing the case before the Supreme Court of California.

Kelly emphasized the IAFF’s readiness to continue their advocacy efforts: “The IAFF is committed to protecting the rights of our members.

If Palo Alto decides to appeal this decision, or any other municipality in California tries to undermine the bargaining rights of IAFF Locals, we will continue the fight.”

FSJA Comment

This recent ruling by California’s 6th District Court of Appeals represents a critical juncture for public sector employees, particularly firefighters, in their ongoing struggle for collective bargaining rights.

The decision not only overturns a decade-old legal battle but also sets a precedent for how municipalities must honor their agreements with public employees.

The involvement of multiple levels of the IAFF highlights the importance of unified efforts in protecting labor rights.

The court’s recognition of the “Meet and Confer” obligation under California’s Meyers-Milias-Brown Act reaffirms the legal framework supporting collective bargaining.

This decision serves as a reminder to municipalities of their obligations and the enduring strength of organized labor in advocating for fair treatment and the upholding of established agreements.

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