Binding Arbitration Bill Made Public
The legislation changes the arbitration process to one in which the complete “Last Best Offer” from both teachers’ unions and management is considered in its entirety, as opposed to the current approach in which various elements of proposals are considered individually. It extends matters eligible for arbitration to wages, and changes the manner in which arbitrators are selected. Under the current system, one arbitrator is chosen by each side in negotiations, and the third arbitrator is selected from the American Arbitration Association. The new legislation proposes that the third arbitrator would be selected instead by the Presiding Justice of the Superior Court from a list of retired judges and justices.
The legislation also outlines what the arbitration panel is supposed to consider before making a decision:
28-9.3-9.2.1 Factors to be considered by the arbitration board. – The arbitrators shall conduct the hearing and render their decision upon the basis of a prompt, peaceful and just settlement of wage or hour disputes or working conditions and terms and conditions of professional employment between the teachers and the school committee by which they are employed. The factors to be considered by the arbitration board shall include, but are not limited to, the following:
(1) The interest and welfare of the students, teachers, and taxpayers;
(2) The city or town’s ability to pay;
(3) Comparison of compensation, benefits and conditions of employment of the school
district in question with compensation, benefits and conditions of employment maintained for other Rhode Island public school teachers;
(4) Comparison of compensation, benefits and conditions of employment of the school
district in question with compensation, benefits and conditions of employment maintained for the same or similar skills under the same or similar working conditions in the local operating area involved; and
(5) Comparison of education qualification and professional development requirements in regard to other professions.
According to various reports, mayors, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, RISC, the Moderate Party, the RI Tea Party and others are against the legislation. For example:
The bill’s opponents say they are concerned that the expansion of binding arbitration would instead place job protections for teachers ahead of sound educational policy.
“The temptation for an arbitrator to look at financial issues — to the detriment of the contract overall — is overwhelming,” said Tim Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees.
“If the union says they are willing to freeze pay and give an additional 5 percent to health care, but insist on no changes to existing language that protects, for example, 30 paid days of teacher sick leave each year, will an arbitrator say, ‘Well it’s a good financial deal?’ ” Duffy said.
“Our concern is, the unions understand the difficult environment for wages right now, so what they will use binding arbitration for is to dig in on the contract language they want to protect….We know teacher unions are worried about teacher seniority and teacher evaluations,” Duffy said. “Binding arbitration is a way of handcuffing the entire education-reform movement.”
The only apparent supporters of this legislation are teacher unions. Why?
Are pensioned and retired judges the best people to assess whether the contract proposals offered by municipalities are a result of fiscal reality? Will communities be more generous than otherwise in hopes of possibly “winning” the “last best offer” showdown? What will inevitably happen is that both union and community proposals will mean more dollars for the unions. Like I said before: binding arbitration = tax hike.
Finally, the whole concept of binding arbitration provides an “out” for our elected officials, making it easier for them to avoid really negotiating when that is a major part of the job that we elect them to do. “It wasn’t us, the arbitrator made the decision.”