‘A’ is for Arbitration: This proposition would change how Austin, firefighters union negotiate

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin voters will decide on eight propositions on the May ballot, and one of them would change how the city and the Austin firefighters’ union negotiate at the bargaining table.

Here’s the wording you’ll see when you vote on it:

“Proposition A: Shall the City Charter be amended to give the Austin Firefighters Association, Local 975 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, the authority to require the City to participate in binding arbitration of all issues in dispute with the Association if the City and the Association reach an impasse in collective bargaining negotiations?

In other words, a “yes” vote on the proposition means the Austin Firefighters Association could force the city into arbitration if both sides can’t reach a deal at the bargaining table on issues like hiring, promotion, discipline, pay wages and working conditions.

Bob Nicks, the president of the AFA, says the change would take the politics out of bargaining.

“What this would do is have a third party, neutral judge or arbitrator come in to look at the evidence,” he said. “The judge is completely non-politics, looks at the evidence both sides present, looks at the community standard and makes a decision.”

A “no” vote means the process stays the same. Currently, the union and city management must agree to a deal or come to an impasse.

“By in large we get along great with the city, but yet in the last six negotiation cycles the city has taken the firefighters to impasse or stalemates in bargaining times,” Nicks said, “and what it does is create personnel shortages, it creates legal costs and costs citizens tens of millions of dollars that goes toward personnel shortages because hiring slows down.”

In a memo to the mayor and city council, the interim budget officer wrote, “this amendment poses two major issues for the city.”

Binding arbitration may result in a collective bargaining agreement that is not in the best interest of the city and there is a heightened potential for a downgrade from the credit rating agencies. It points to the City of San Antonio’s credit rating downgraded after voters passed a similar proposition.

The officer also wrote there is no fiscal impact to Proposition A but says, “it is a loss in management discretion.”

The memo suggests a change to the process means “binding arbitration may not take a holistic view of the entire city budget” and “non-public safety services — such as public health, parks, libraries and housing — may need to be constrained or cut to afford the increases in the fire department budget.”

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