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SLO firemen and cops lose big time 

After a citywide municipal nightmare leading up to an election, the vote over binding arbitration is over, and San Luis Obispo voters overwhelmingly elected to repeal the controversial labor policy.

SLO voters approved two election measures on Aug. 30, ending binding arbitration for safety officers and clearing the way for the City Council to negotiate a reduction in employee benefits without having to put the issue to a public vote.

Although there were a few hundred votes left to count as of press time, it was clear the measures were decisively approved. Measure B, which struck down binding arbitration, was approved by 72.81percent. Measure A, which allows the City Council to approve benefit reductions, passed by 74.16 percent. Only 42.2 percent of registered voters sent in ballots in the city’s first all-mail election.

City voters approved binding arbitration for firefighters and police in 2000. Under the practice, a mediator looks at employer and employee bargaining positions and determines the outcome.

Councilman Andrew Carter, the Robespierre of the anti-binding arbitration movement, seemed shocked at the margins of vote.

“I’m excited and I’m gratified by the results,” he said. “The vote says a lot of great things about the city. It shows how the city wants its representatives to make the decisions about the budget.”

Erik Baskin, president of the San Luis Obispo City Firefighters Local 3523 Union, issued a statement saying, “While we are disappointed with the results of the election, we are grateful that this divisive campaign is now behind us and that we can return all of our focus to providing the best public safety possible to the citizens of San Luis Obispo. It is important to note that this special election was brought to you by the members of the San Luis Obispo City Council and that throughout the campaign we remained dedicated to our jobs and committed to providing exemplary public safety.”

The election results will likely set the tone for the upcoming round of labor negotiations between the city and the union. The recently passed city budget was predicated on wringing millions of dollars of concessions out of city workers, and the overwhelming margins in this election may inspire the council to ask for more.

The election caps a time of radical transition in the city’s political life.  The City Council transformed from a dominant pro-labor political hierarchy that made the employees of San Luis Obispo some of the highest paid municipal employees in the state to a fierce, fiscally conservative power block that doesn’t hesitate to slash union benefits. It remains to be seen whether these changes will be the new norm or if the political pendulum will swing back when the economy improves.

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