As it did during negotiations with the police sergeants union, the city decided to keep using binding arbitration for misconduct cases, but with a few tweaks. The union contracts bifurcate the appeals process, using one procedure for grievances, such as labor violations, and another for appealing discipline more severe than a letter of reprimand, such as suspension or termination.
The city and union would now be able to select an arbitrator from a pool of retired San Mateo County judges, according to the contract. But the arbitrator's decision would still be final.
Another change is the creation of a labor-management committee that will meet at least once per quarter to discuss retirement benefits and related potential future cost increases.
The staff report estimates the SEIU contract will cost the city an additional $904,000 a year. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposed SEIU contract on July 15.
The Almanac broke the story last year about the arrest, firing and reinstatement of veteran Menlo Park police officer Jeffrey Vasquez, that shone a spotlight on the failures of the binding arbitration system.
The officer, fired after being caught naked with a prostitute in a motel room in Sunnyvale and reportedly admitting that it wasn't the first time he'd solicited a hooker for sex, was reinstated through binding arbitration and awarded $188,000 in back pay. He remains employed by the city.
Were the Vasquez case to occur under the new arbitration process, it would end the same way should the arbitrator rule to revoke the officer's termination.
Binding arbitration decisions in police misconduct remain confidential unless both parties agree to release the information.
The Almanac obtained 17 redacted decisions from multiple California jurisdictions and found that in 10 of those cases, arbitrators reversed the discipline decision. Arbitrators reinstated the officers nine times, and shortened one suspension. They upheld terminations in the remaining seven cases.
Academic studies of similar binding arbitration cases in Chicago and Houston showed approximately the same reversal rate.
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