Apparently, “Irrational” Is in the Eye of the Reporter
It has long been accepted that the terms of a labor contract continue after the agreement expires but a Superior Court judge placed limits on that theory Wednesday, ruling that arbitration was not appropriate when the Cranston Teamsters union objected to higher health-insurance premiums imposed by the city.
Even though the Teamsters contract points to arbitration as a means of resolving disputes, and even though it states that contract terms remain in effect until there is a new agreement, state law allows no labor contract to have a term of “more than three years,” said Judge Michael A. Silverstein.
The raw bias of that opening opens a window that must give the aware layman the feeling that labor, law, and public-sector union contracts exist in some bizarre world of invisible striped felines doing kabuki dances. With his ruling, it appears that Judge Silverstein skirted the question of whether the arbitrator’s award showed “manifest disregard of a contractual provision” or a “completely irrational result.” The award fails by both criteria: The contract (PDF) states that employees will pay 20% of their healthcare with no provision (that I’ve found) limiting adjustments. The worker’s responsibility is 20%. Period.
From the perspective of reformers, I suppose Silverstein’s ruling is a positive development, in that expired contracts would appear to be more vulnerable to adjustment by towns and school districts. On the other hand, by lobbing the ball back to the Labor Relations Board, he may have cleared the path for an unelected body to set the policy, removing culpability from lawmakers for a desired mandate that drew considerable heat from concerned citizens.