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Lisa Blais: RI Needs to Oppose Binding Arbitration Bill

Monday, February 11, 2013

 

The legislative bill that will bury RI once and for all: Teachers’ Binding Arbitration and perpetual contracts, House Bill 5340

The Chairwoman of the Labor Committee is the lead sponsor of a Binding Arbitration bill scheduled for hearing on Tuesday, February 12th in Room 201 at the State House. Binding Arbitration has been a long sought after piece of legislation by Labor, and in particular, the unions that represent employees in our public school system.

In a nutshell, school districts and unions will turn to a panel of arbitrators if mediation fails. Typically, these arbitrators are chosen through the American Arbitration Association, to settle any issues that either side perceives as stumbling blocks to agreement on a new contract. The arbitrator(s) determines what specific terms and conditions in question will become part of a new agreement that the school district must abide by. School districts in RI are already operating under a law that binds them to arbitration decisions that do not impact the expenditure of money.

So, why does Labor need House Bill 5340? Because, Labor wants control of the money that House Bill 5340, if passed, will give them. It provides for binding arbitration over expenditures of money. This means that if an arbitrator determines that increased school expenditures seems reasonable to him or her then every taxpayer will be on the hook for increased property taxes. It means that we may witness yet more cuts to programs for our kids that may be deemed “unnecessary” in order to partially offset the expenses that the arbitrator may impose on any community in our state.

Binding arbitration on fiscal matters means that a private citizen earning compensation by virtue of being an arbitrator (think former Senator Tassoni who stated his desire to join the club), potentially living out-of-state, will decide how taxpayers’ dollars in RI will be spent for such matters as raises, longevity pay, health insurance, sick days, and potentially rates at which step increases kick-in.

Gone will be the legal authority of local school committee and town or city councils to determine what local budgets can bear. An unelected, private citizen will take over the reins on fiscal matters in your city or town. With House Bill 5340 you can bet that one of two outcomes may occur – either school committees will succumb to Labor demands to avoid the mediation and arbitration process or Labor will be gleefully aggressive in order to get to arbitration.

They know full well that arbitrators tend to make decisions myopically by looking at other local districts that may serve as examples of having already met the unions’ demands.

Taxpayers’ ability to absorb increased costs will have little bearing should House Bill 5340 pass. Students’ needs will most assuredly take a back seat to adult entitlements.

The toxicity of House Bill 5340 is that it also undermines the long-standing law that no contract shall be in effect for more than three years. This bill has “perpetual contract” language contained in its text. Diametrically opposed to the concept that contracts do not run in perpetuity, they expire!

Don’t let the explanation of the bill fool you. It claims that it will help to avoid strikes. Teachers are not supposed to strike in RI. It claims that “Every decision made concerning public education must be in the best interest of our students”. Yet, the potential to bury every city and town with unsustainable costs is hardly in the best interest of our students.

If you agree that your local elected official should run your municipality and that this egregious legislation must be stopped once and for all then please consider attending the hearing on Tuesday, February 12th in Room 201 at 4:15. Or, call Chairwoman Williams via the Clerk of the Labor Committee at 222-2587 and ask her to let Representative Williams know that House Bill 5340 is bad for Rhode Island’s economy and as bad for our kids.

Lisa Blais is a Board Member with the OSTPA organization. She can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected].
 

 

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