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.

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14 years ago

Binding arbitration is a sucker’s game for the public. Ask any attorney who has been ivolved in arbitraton. I know. I am regularly involved in such arbitrations. The arbitrators are always under a lot of informal pressure to “do the right thing” –i.e. hold in favor of the public employee(s)
By the way, how has binding arbitration worked to keep salaries in line in major baseball? in major league football? in major league basketball?
Lastly, and most importantly, I thought we lived in a republic? Asuming this to be true (which is hard to do given Rhody politics), how can unelected arbitrators be delegated the political power to make major financial decisions binding the political branches of government? How can the government ever be held accountable if they have delegated away such major powers? How can the public have any input on important public issues such as the financing of its schools, fire departments, etc, if the decision will be ultimately renderd by unelected arbitrators deciding in secret in a forum closed to the public?

14 years ago

By the way, you all missed a major story last week.
In the Warwick Beacon, in its police beat section, there was a short article about a Warwick cop who after a hearing was found to have comitted some undisclosed misconduct which justified a demotion and suspension without pay for six months. The nature of the misconduct was not disclosed because the officer had the right to keep his misconduct private under the provisions of the “Policeman’s Bill of Rights” aka “The Public Has No Right To Know of the Misconduct of Its Cops”.
Thus, a cop, found by an independent board to have been engaged in misconduct – misconudct so severe as to justify a demotion and suspension of pay for six months — has the right to keep the facts behind this misconduct entirely private. Thus, the pubic will never know whether the penalty was fair or not fair, whether the misconduct was evidence of mismanagement or lack of proper supervision, whether the misconduct was sytemic or limited to this one individual, etc.
On the other hand, those private citizens who were merely accused of crimes, had their full names and addresses published in the police beat section, with a detailed recounting of the “facts” of their alleged offenses.
Don’t tell me there isn’t a two caste system in Rhody: the protected political caste and the unprotected non-political caste.

Mike Cappelli
Mike Cappelli
14 years ago

Here are a few comments about binding arbitration around the country. This one, in Santa Clara, CA:
“Binding arbitration nearly always is bad for cities. It takes control of the budget away from elected representatives and hands it to an independent arbitrator, who looks at numbers but not the broader good of a community.”
This one, from the Mayor of Detroit, (in 1981!!):
“We know that compulsory arbitration has been a failure. Slowly, inexorably, compulsory arbitration destroys sensible fiscal management.”
“Arbitration awards,” Young said, “have caused more damage to the public service in Detroit than the strikes they were designed to prevent.”
And in Connecticut:
“Reforming the binding arbitration process would be the single most effective step to bring property tax relief to the people of Connecticut, because the unions would no longer be able to dictate how your money is spent”
Only in Rhode Island, where the union-puppet-Democratic General Assembly, along with a few phony Republicans, (aka John Loughlin) is reigning in the union pigs considered heresy. Everywhere else in the country it is thought to be sensible public policy.
Go figure.

John WardD
John Ward
14 years ago

The Woonsocket City Council will be taking up a resolution in opposition to binding arbitration for teachers at its next meeting (Monday, Oct. 5). There are at least 4 sponsors (out of 7) presently, and maybe more before it gets to the meeting.
I expect it to pass.

14 years ago

I’m all for binding arbitration….
as long as Mike Cappelli is the appointed arbitrator.

14 years ago

“questioned whether binding arbitration might actually save the city money.”
That’s easy. No, it won’t.
Kudos to those four (or more) members of the Woonsocket City Council. Perhaps you could ship some Woonsocket water south, Councilman Ward, to be served to the Cranston City Council before and during meetings.

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