Retired Teacher in Favor of Binding Arbitration. Surprised?

It’s disappointing to see retired teacher and principal John Savage (R – East Providence) release an op-ed in favor of binding arbitration on House Minority Office letterhead. The piece (provided in full in the extended entry) amounts to union spin issued in the name of the Republican Party. The substantive core of Savage’s argument is as follows:

There is a belief that arbitration decisions overwhelmingly favor teacher unions. Over a span of ten years, (long enough to give us a respectable sampling) 636 teacher contracts were negotiated in the Nutmeg State. Only seventy-five (12%) of these contracts (756 individual items) were submitted to arbitration. Scorecard of decisions rendered: School Boards-379/ Unions-377. Let us probe deeper! Health Insurance issues: School Boards-52%/ Unions 48%, Working Conditions: School Boards 53%/ Unions 47%, Salary issues: School Boards 42%/ Unions 58%.
Well did those arbitrated salary decisions put the strain on municipal budgets? Maybe they did, but certainly not because of the arbitration. The arbitrated salary increases averaged 2.39% while the negotiated salary increases averaged 2.48%.

Savage offers zero, zilch, nada indication of his source or of the 10-year span that he’s describing. He explains that binding arbitration became law in Connecticut in 1979, which ought to leave almost three decades of data. Why present numbers from only one third of those years? It’s curious to note that, in this regard, the elected Republican representative’s spin is more egregious than that of NEA Assistant Executive Director Pat Crowley, who at least divulged the years at which he was looking and used a span showing higher increases than Savage describes (my response here).
The lack of citation also makes it impossible to adjust for context. So School Boards won 52% of healthcare-related disputes, but that might mean they won the right to send out plan descriptions in digital form, instead of paper while the unions won the right to continue paying 4% coshares. Who knows?
One thing we can say is that, alone among the various categories that Savage lists, salary increases inherently compound. Health insurance and working conditions can change from year to year; salaries never, never go down in the world of public sector education.
If Savage is truly after a solution — for the benefit of Rhode Island’s students — that will resolve contract disputes through “fair and evenhanded legislation,” he could advocate for a ban on retroactivity. That would give the unions incentive to reach agreement, rather than to drag out “negotiations” for years on end to ensure that the cost of their labor never recedes.
The most fundamental problem with Savage’s position is that he cuts out the consideration of most concern to those whom he ostensibly represents. That the arbitration produces slightly less remunerative results for unions tells us only that it kicks into gear where the terms of contracts are most hotly disputed. In other words, it’s a safety switch that unions can hit when taxpayers manage to mount a truly substantive response to their steamroller.



Full text of Savage’s op-ed:
Binding arbitration is a solution to a problem. Not one child has lost a single day of school due to a teacher dispute in Connecticut since binding arbitration legislation was passed in 1979. But is this cure worse than the disease? Let us look at the Connecticut experience and you decide for yourself.
There is a belief that arbitration decisions overwhelmingly favor teacher unions. Over a span of ten years, (long enough to give us a respectable sampling) 636 teacher contracts were negotiated in the Nutmeg State. Only seventy-five (12%) of these contracts (756 individual items) were submitted to arbitration. Scorecard of decisions rendered: School Boards-379/ Unions-377. Let us probe deeper! Health Insurance issues: School Boards-52%/ Unions 48%, Working Conditions: School Boards 53%/ Unions 47%, Salary issues: School Boards 42%/ Unions 58%.
Well did those arbitrated salary decisions put the strain on municipal budgets? Maybe they did, but certainly not because of the arbitration. The arbitrated salary increases averaged 2.39% while the negotiated salary increases averaged 2.48%.
But isn’t it true that Connecticut’s teachers are the highest paid in the country because of binding arbitration? When binding arbitration first became law, Connecticut’s teachers were the fourteenth highest paid in the country. Six years and two teacher contract cycles later they remained fourteenth in the country.
That changed when that the Connecticut Legislature passed, “An Act Concerning Education Enhancement” which gave dollar incentive grants to school districts to raise their classroom teacher’s salaries. It was then that teacher salaries rose.
Won’t teacher unions deliberately maneuver cities and towns into an expensive arbitration process? Again, over a ten year span only 12% of contracts went to arbitration. That means the remaining 88% didn’t.
If it is utilized so minimally, why even allow for arbitration? In Rhode Island the Michelson Act, which allows teachers to collectively bargain, provides no mechanism which will ultimately resolve a dispute. There must be a means to bring finality and fairness to the contractual process for the sake of students, teachers and taxpayers.
Presently teachers have no real options. They cannot legally withhold their services without punishment from the courts and they cannot institute work to rule (which they themselves abhor) without experiencing the wrath of the community. Meanwhile those with whom they are negotiating can refuse to even talk for as long as they see fit. If one believes in a collective bargaining process, then one must also believe in a way to bring such a process to a reasonable end. Yes, binding arbitration is a solution.
The legislation which allows for binding arbitration can and should unequivocally ban teacher strikes. And the legislation can by statute also require arbitrators to fully consider the financial capability of a city or town, school and non- school demands upon the city or town, and the public interest of the taxpayer.
Binding arbitration is an opportunity to be grasped. Fair and evenhanded legislation can bring to an end teacher contract disputes in Rhode Island once and for all.

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Will
11 years ago

Anything that gives the impression of some kind of Republican endorsement of his position is certainly not appropriate. All I can say is, Jack better be more careful in the 2010 cycle if he plans to seek reelection.
Since Jack is “my” representative, I can assure you that his position regarding this issue is no surprise to us. Protecting public school teachers at the expense of everyone else has been something he’s been remarkably consistent at. It’s certainly disappointing, as he is generally good on most issues. However, on the subject of “public education,” he’s very safely in the NEA pocket.
As you can see, Jack is cherry-picking the data.
PS Jack is a retired teacher and principal (who still fills in occassionally for other principals), who is also married to a teacher. He didn’t get the nickname “Buyback Jack” for nothing.

Robert Balliot
11 years ago

It appears that the information Savage presents is derived from the non-partisan January 2006 Connecticut Legislative Program Review & Investigations Committee report:
Binding Arbitration Municipal and School Employees

“Regarding general wage increases … teachers’ offers were chosen 58 percent of the time.”

So, Justin’s argument equates an expert opinion based on non-partisan study as ‘union spin’. This is certainly a great example of how internalized bias can lead to unintended consequences and disinformation.

Monique
Editor
11 years ago

So does this come down to expert opinion versus real life experience?
In real life, in the vast majority of instances, binding arbitration has favored the labor side of the table without regard to the merits of the case.

Justin Katz
11 years ago

Robert,
If you’re going to crown yourself as the neutral guardian against disinformation, you’re going to have to sharpen your analysis some. For one thing, the Committee report isn’t “non-partisan,” it’s “bipartisan.” The former implies an outside group that’s disassociated from partisan politics. The latter involves partisans who ostensibly cancel each other out (or at least keep an eye on each other, inasmuch as the majority still has the upper hand). And who could question the purity of a policy analysis document produced by legislators, right?
More significantly to your displayed facility for your self-appointed mission is the fact that I equated Savage’s press release as “union spin.” Even if we assume the Connecticut report to be as neutral as its authors are able to make it, people reporting on its findings are apt to spin it. Note, for example, that not only did teachers win 58% of the time on wage increases, but they won 59% of the time “for health insurance premium cost share issues.” In other words, as I suggested, Savage’s proclaimed balance could be illusory if the bulk of the management advantage is on relatively minor issues, while the unions win on the big issues of wages and health expenses.

Robert Balliot
11 years ago

Justin’s essay originally projected his bias on information provided by the ex-school principal as ‘union spin’. Now the bias has moved to the Connecticut legislature and legislators in general for having provided information that does not fit his argument.

That is the crux of many of the arguments presented here. The answer precedes the analysis:

5 = 2 + 2

The answer is five. There is something wrong with those twos.

Justin Katz
11 years ago

I said Savage spun. You equated that with saying the source spun. I objected to the equation, but noted that it’s not inconceivable that politicians would spin such a report. Now you say I’ve moved the goal by mitigating what you’d already accused me of saying.
Yeah. I’ll look to you to discern disinformation…

Robert Balliot
11 years ago

Observe how Justin has ‘spun’ his own rhetoric in response to critical analysis.

Monique
Editor
11 years ago

“If Savage is truly after a solution … he could advocate for a ban on retroactivity.”
Indeed, Rep Savage and everyone who purports to be acting for the chiii-hhhilll-dren would do so. The experience has been that years – literally – of work to rule in the absence of a contract (hello, Warwick) is rewarded with retroactive raises, etc.
On a positive note, certain school committees have handled at least one matter in a commendable fashion lately. It’s been reported that the reason there are so many school districts without contracts at the start of this school year is due to the reluctance of school committees to sign contracts longer than a year. (Who the heck knows what the revenue stream is going to look like eighteen months from now?) If this is so, they are to be commended for demonstrating responsibility in that regard.

George Elbow
George Elbow
11 years ago

Bob Balliot, you moron. Justin’s original criticism / points are perfectly valid. Savage didn’t cite the source (nothing to argue about there). Savage sends out an Op-Ed piece on official House Minority Office letterhead (Can’t argue with objecting to that). Katz correctly noted that the details of the numbers reported by Savage were not revealed / analyzed and thus were very likely misleading. In fact, as Katz noted, Salary increase are of particular concern, not to mention the misleading implication of the healthcare “wins & losses”. Bottom line: like it or not Bob, the Unions have a long & proud history of disemenating MISINFORMATION. Witness NEA-RI #2 Clown (Patrick Crowley) claiming in Dec 2007/January 2008 via a widely published Op-Ed piece that “the cost of teaching has risen slower than overall inflation”. The moron (must be related to you?) compared 5 years of spending increases to 7 years of inflation. Most notable was the fact that not a single Union-hack (such as Savage) stepped up to correct the record. No, they were quite comfortable with the misinformation / Union-spin. Another fine example of Union-spin, and repeated by Savage, is the BS about 2-3% salary increases, when in fact the Union-hacks receive actual increase 4+ times those amounts. A better example is the claim by Woonsocket’s Union that they agreed to a “wage freeze”, when in fact nothing is further from the truth. Again, silence from the Union-hacks who know better. Like it or not Bob, Savage’s Op-Ed is in keeping with the Union spin / mis-information machine. The only acceptable solution is to eliminate Collective Bargaining all together. Let the school districts determine what they can AFFORD to pay. Then, if the Union-hack teachers can’t afford to work for the salary being offered, they are free to take their “talents”… Read more »

Monique
Editor
11 years ago

“Why should the taxpayers be disenfranchised by having a decision that directly impacts their pocket-book be put in the hands of an unaccountable arbiter, who has no vested interest in the community”
… but does have an interest in getting chosen for future arbitration gigs.
Very good points, George.

Robert Balliot
11 years ago

Notice how the pseudonym ‘George Elbow’ immediately employs the tactic of personal insults. He implies sub-normal intelligence (moron) for offering critical analysis of Justin’s method of argument.

The ‘George Elbow’ insult tactic certainly aligns well with Justin’s strategy and use of bias to circumvent critical thinking processes.

George Elbow
George Elbow
11 years ago

‘Bob Balliot’,
Calling you a moron wasn’t intended to be an insult. Rather, it was to get your attention. Kind of like Jackie Gleason in “Smokey in the Bandit”. He kneed the boys in the groin and told them “that’s an attention getta”.
Apparently you have thin skin and are rather sensative. Accept my apologies.
Now that we are past that, would you not agree that the Unions have a long and proud history of spin & misinformation? Do you contest the 3 examples of Union misinformation that I provided?
Do you not find it troublesome that an arbiter should be allowed to take away essential accountability from our elected officials?
PS – calling Pat Crowley a moron wasn’t intended to be an insult either. Rather, it was just easier to write ‘moron’ versus writing ‘he of sub mormal intelligence’, which is a fair and generous description of him.

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