Press Release

Court Declares Law Enforcement Binding Arbitration

(SB 402) Unconstitutional

Date: May 8, 2001

Release: Immediately

Contact: Dinah Phillips

Public Information Officer

Earlier today, the Santa Cruz County Superior Court ruled that the current law authorizing binding interest arbitration for law enforcement is unconstitutional. The Court agreed with the County that the negotiation of public employee salaries are the proper responsibility of locally elected representatives and should not be decided by outside arbitrators.

The binding interest arbitration bill was enacted over the strong objections of cities and counties throughout the State who believe that "interest arbitration" is counter to representative government and represents a major erosion of local control. Policy issues, finance and budget prioritization are properly within the purview of locally elected officials rather than a disinterested party from outside the community.

The League of California Cities and California State Association of Counties both have asserted that interest arbitration will make it more difficult for public agencies to manage their budgets and is counter to constitutional provisions calling for local control by elected officials. "We view mandatory binding interest arbitration as a major erosion of control by local elected officials over major portions of their budget and personnel staffing. It will clearly lead to an upward spiraling of labor costs," stated Steve Keil, Legislative Coordinator for the California Association of Counties. [For confirmation, Steve Keil may be reached at 916-327-7500, extension 521].

The hearing today was held as a result of a lawsuit filed by Operating Engineers Local 3 on behalf of the Santa Cruz County Deputy Sheriff's Association attempting to compel the County to arbitrate salaries and benefits. After over 10 months of negotiations and state mediation, the County and Local 3 have been unable to reach an agreement. Local 3 continues to demand a salary and benefits package totaling more than 32% over a three year period, a figure that is almost twice the amount negotiated with the county's other unions.

This contrasts with the County's offer of 18.5% increases over three years which would bring salaries above those of deputies in Monterey, Napa, Solano and Fresno Counties and would be comparable to law enforcement salaries paid by the County's cities.

Local 3 has also insisted that the County increase retirement benefits by more than 50% with a cost to the local taxpayers of over $34 million in current dollars over the next twenty years. The proposed retirement plan changes would raise the approximate maximum annual retirement paid to deputies at age 50 to $56,000, the amount for sergeants to $65,000, and the amount paid lieutenants to $78,000.

The County has agreed to consider this retirement proposal as a part of the total compensation package. Other jurisdictions have authorized this benefit by trading future salary increases to pay for the new plan. However, Local 3 continues to demand that the County fund this benefit in addition to substantial salary increases.

The County continues to be interested in resolving its differences with the Union through the traditional labor relations process of negotiations and remains hopeful that Local 3 will return to the bargaining table. Binding interest arbitration differs from mediation and negotiation and is the process used by professional sports teams and their players to resolve salary disputes. In interest arbitration, the outside arbitrator must choose between the two competing proposals. This type of arbitration causes significant increases in labor costs.

County Administrator Susan Mauriello concluded "The County Board of Supervisors has enormous respect for the men and women who perform their law enforcement duties with the highest degree of professionalism and put their lives on the line for our community. We need a prompt and appropriate resolution of our outstanding differences, and we remain concerned that the matter of increased compensation has been left to linger for so long."