Binding Arbitration: The Next Battle
Tuesday, July 05, 2011
Bob Walsh, executive director of the state NEA, told GoLocalProv he hopes that the General Assembly takes a second look at binding arbitration in the fall. On the Right, both the Tea Party and the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition—which helped defeat the legislation in an 11th-hour grassroots campaign—are also warning their members that binding arbitration return.
Binding arbitration means that the decision of an arbitrator in collective bargaining negotiations over contracts is binding on both the union and the city or school district. It has been in effect for decades for police and fire but not for teachers.
‘Battle is not over … has only begun’
Officially, the special fall legislative session is being convened to address pension reform. But there’s nothing stopping the General Assembly from resurrecting other issues, according to Lisa Blais, spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Tea Party. “I think we need to be very concerned about it being brought up while everyone is presumably focused on pension reform,” Blais told GoLocalProv.
House Speaker Gordon Fox may have once again delivered the coup de grace to binding arbitration this year—in what has become a familiar role for him—but his announcement contained hints that the House leadership may take it up again soon, Blais said.
“Binding arbitration is a very complicated issue,” Fox said. “I talked with many of our House members who feel they need more information and time. So therefore I will not put a vote before them in this session. We will continue to look closely at this issue in the off-season.”
RISC has also issued an action alert to its members, calling for donations to help it fight binding arbitration. “The battle is not over; in fact, it has only begun,” the state’s largest taxpayer group said.
Missing in action in the last round of fighting over the issue were the teacher unions. Both the NEA and the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers supported binding arbitration, but they did not mobilize their members to back it on any level comparable to what taxpayer groups did. RISC, Tea Party, and Operation Clean Government flooded the inboxes of supporters with actions alerts and urged them to do the same to the House and Senate leadership.
On the day before the General Assembly went into recess, everyone from Tea Party officials to Providence Mayor Angel Taveras appeared at a series of Statehouse rallies to rail against the legislation.
NEA weighing its options for the fall
Union officials and advocates have repeatedly denied that the system is skewed in their favor. They say binding arbitration is necessary simply to put an end to what would otherwise be long, drawn-out contract disputes that could lead to teacher strikes. In a previous interview, Walsh also said that far from increasing costs, binding arbitration could save money by avoiding costly court battles, such as the one in East Providence.
“We’ll continue to advocate for binding arbitration as we have for two decades,” Walsh told GoLocalProv early this week. But first he said he is focusing on pension reform—something he has a key role in as a member of the state’s new advisory group on the matter.
It’s unclear exactly what the state’s two teacher unions might do to push for binding arbitration in the fall. Walsh said the NEA would “make an assessment” on what chances it has of passing the House on a third try before deciding whether to launch an all-out campaign.
As for the Tea Party, there’s no question it will be out in full force in the fall session. “We will be out in front as long as this legislation rears its ugly head,” Blais said.
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