How much influence the labor unions should have on the Menlo Park Fire Protection District board is the hot-button issue in this year's election, with Chuck Bernstein, Peter Carpenter and Rex Ianson running on a slate against the two candidates, Carolyn Clarke and Jack Nelson, who have accepted union support for their campaign.
The district has been embroiled in a years-long contract impasse with the firefighters union, primarily over disagreements about raises. Given that the directors will vote on any proposed contracts, does accepting union campaign support create a conflict of interest? Ms. Clarke and Mr. Nelson say no, while the other three candidates, among them a former smokejumper and a retired firefighter, say yes.
Ms. Clarke, candidate for the board of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, has now released her answers to a questionnaire used by a labor union to help determine endorsements. She opted to provide her answers without disclosing the questions, as the San Mateo County Labor Council maintains those are confidential.
"Our endorsement process (is) an internal one and we ask candidates not to circulate their questionnaires. While some candidates may still (choose to) do so, out of respect for the process, we do not post or publish the responses," said SMCLC representative Julie Lind in response to the Almanac's request for copies.
Ms. Clarke's answers stated that she and Mr. Nelson "have very similar goals and priorities" for the district, namely operational efficiency, successful labor negotiations, financial stability and increased community outreach.
As far as labor activities, Ms. Clarke said she would not cross a picket line, would support an organized labor boycott as well as binding arbitration for settling economic disputes between management and labor, and, "depending on the type of support required, if elected (she) would be willing to use public stature to support union organizing."
Three labor issues she feels strongly about are workforce diversity, standards for service excellence, and re-establishing and maintaining "normal labor relations."
Her answers stand in stark contrast with those of Mr. Bernstein, who had released his copy of the questionnaire, complete with answers, on Oct. 16.
While noting that the specific circumstances would have to be considered, in general, Mr. Bernstein said, he would likely not support a boycott, and would also not rule out crossing a picket line.
The question about crossing a picket line is inappropriate, he said. "In my opinion, it would be wrong for an official to interfere in a union matter, one way or the other."
He noted that he does not support binding arbitration at all, on grounds that "non-involved parties should not have the power to determine the outcome of disputes."
The one labor issue he would like to address if elected is settling the years-long contract dispute with the firefighters.
That leaves Mr. Nelson as the lone hold-out over disclosing his responses to the labor council questionnaire. Asked why, he responded with the following email:
"Here is my dilemma, we all know that the questionnaire is the sole property of the Labor Council, the information contained in that document is mine, as the response. I gave them my WORD, that I would not share this with anyone, my WORD is my bond. I see no value in going back on my word as a running candidate, just for another story, the other guy's do not have a copy of it either. I cannot help with other candidates in general do, say one thing and then do something else. In addition to my word, I also have credibility and good character to live up too as well. There is way too much unnecessary drama connected to this race, why add more by comprising some one's ethics. If you look closely at the questions, some are simply yes/no and other answer's are relative to the situations and circumstances at that time and may have exception's to them. As a reminder, I have never had/held a union card, been a union delegate/lobbyist , as most of my work career, I have been in management positions. We ask these guys to put their 'life on the line' every time they go out the door, no reason not to have 'Safety Personnel' represented. If you remember the unions (whether you like them or not) help create the 'middle class', which has shrunk over the past several years, both labor and the middle class."
"This may not be the answer you are looking for, but you have my Word," Mr. Nelson concluded.
Incumbent Rex Ianson and former fire board director Peter Carpenter, running with Mr. Bernstein, decided not to fill out the questionnaire in the first place.