A Voter-Approved Salary Setting And Impasse Resolution Ordinance Was Unlawful

CATEGORY: Client Update for Public Agencies, Fire Watch, Law Enforcement Briefing Room
CLIENT TYPE: Public Employers, Public Safety
DATE: Apr 01, 2022

In 1988, the voters in the City of Pacifica (City) approved Measure F, an ordinance entitled “Firefighter Dispute Resolution Process Impasse Resolution Procedures: Minimum Wages and Benefits for Firefighters”. Measure F specifies procedures to follow if labor negotiations with the City’s firefighters are at an impasse. The Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA) also includes procedures for resolving labor relations impasses between local government employers and their employees.  Measure F differed from the MMBA’s impasse procedures.  For example, Measure F did not require the factfinding board to weigh the factors the MMBA requires, including the interests and welfare of the public and the financial ability of the public agency.  In addition, section 3(a) of Measure F required, absent an agreement otherwise, that the top step salaries of fire captains were to be fixed retroactively to July 1 of each fiscal year at an amount not less than the average for the top step salaries of fire captains in five neighboring cities.  Measure F also required the salaries of Firefighter-Engineers to be increased proportionately. The City had never used the procedures of Measure F to set compensation.

In 2019, an impasse in negotiations occurred between the City and the Pacifica Firefighters Association (PFFA). PFFA then petitioned the court to require the City to follow Measure F.

The trial court denied the petition, finding that Measure F was preempted by state law and constituted an unlawful delegation of power. The California Court of Appeal affirmed.

The Court first determined that section 3(a) of Measure F unlawfully delegated the Pacifica City Council’s power to set compensation to the voters.  As a general law city, Pacifica must follow Government Code Section 36506, which provides, “By resolution or ordinance, the city council shall fix the compensation of all appointive officers and employees.”  Section 3(a), however, unlawfully delegated the City’s mandatory duty to set salaries to the voters.

Next, the Court determined that Measure F undermined the City’s authority under the MMBA at Government Code Section 3505.7 to unilaterally impose its last, best, and final offer if negotiations and impasse procedures failed. While Section 3505.7 does not require a public employer to unilaterally impose, it gives a public employer the right to do so.  Section 3505.7 thereby preserves the public employer’s discretion to determine the ultimate outcome of the negotiations. Measure F’s provisions conflict with Section 3505.7 by limiting that discretion. The Court concluded that the MMBA preempts Measure F and therefore the City was entitled to implement its last, best, and final offer in the event of an impasse.

Pacifica Firefighters Association v. City of Pacifica, 2022 WL 871260


The fact that Pacifica is a general law city was a critical factor in the Court’s decision.  While a general law city must follow the Government Code’s requirements, a charter city has the authority to govern itself as to municipal affairs. A city charter could, for example, expressly give voters the right to set the salaries for city employees.  The Court found that a general law city like Pacifica, conversely, had to follow the Government Code and thus lacked any authority to delegate salary setting to the electorate. 

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