What One City Council Thinks of Binding Arbitration for Teachers Contracts
On Monday night, the Cranston City Council considered a resolution sponsored by Mayor Allan Fung opposing a proposed change to Rhode Island law that would require binding arbitration to occur when a school committee and a teachers’ union were unable to agree upon a contract.
During the public comment phase of the meeting, Dan Beardsley of the Rhode Island league of Cities and Towns gave a short history of the evolution of current binding arbitration legislation, explaining how it has arisen as the union alternative to “permanent contract” legislation — which Mr. Beardsley believes did not have the votes to pass the Rhode Island House in the 2009 session. He also noted that “22 communities already passed this resolution” and that he expects 14 more to, before the legislature reconvenes late in October, possibly with a binding arbitration bill on its agenda.
Cranston City Councilman Anthony Lupino spoke at length against the resolution, arguing that a binding arbitration system that was well thought-out could have a positive impact, if it for example banned teacher strikes and required consideration of the public interest of the taxpayer. Apparently, the people of Rhode Island have to give something up in order to have their interests officially be taken into account when Rhode Island government makes fiscal decisions.
In response, Mayor Fung argued that arbitrators do not plan for the long-term health of cities and towns in their processes. Though I agree that this is a legitimate concern, I would hope the Mayor and other RI officials would take a broader-than-technocratic view on a matter like this, as the idea that decisions about the major cost (personnel) of the major budget item in most cities and towns should be made by a body that is directly accountable to the people is as at least as important as the idea of effective planning.
Councilman Terence Livingston indicated his openness to supporting or opposing the resolution, saying that he didn’t know “how to make a reasoned decision about whether to accept this or whether to reject this” without hearing further testimony. Five minutes later, he voted in favor of the resolution. Council President John Lanni must have been really convincing in his short statement in support of the resolution, offered immediately after Councilman Livingston spoke.
Councilman Robert Pelletier also spoke briefly in favor of the resolution. Councilor Michelle Bergin-Andrews questioned whether binding arbitration might actually save the city money.
In the end the resolution passed by a vote of 7-2, with Councilmen Anthony Lupino and Emilio Navarro the only votes against. Evidently, Finance Committee Chairman Navarro doesn’t believe that binding arbitration would be a contributor to the “structural deficits” that he has in the past expressed concern about.