Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Changing how arbitration works?

Last week, in responding to the firefighters' arbitration award, the Daily News raised some questions about the arbitration process in general. Both firefighters and police have their contracts decided through an arbitration process, because they're not legally allowed to strike (for obvious reasons). Three panelists, one chosen by the city, one chosen by the union, and one "neutral" arbiter agreed to by both, hear arguments from both sides and write a contract.

Changing how arbitration works?

Last week, in responding to the firefighters' arbitration award, the Daily News raised some questions about the arbitration process in general. Both firefighters and police have their contracts decided through an arbitration process, because they're not legally allowed to strike (for obvious reasons). Three panelists, one chosen by the city, one chosen by the union, and one "neutral" arbiter agreed to by both, hear arguments from both sides and write a contract.

New Jersey municipalities use arbitration, too, and it looks like they have some concerns about the process themselves -- basically, many municipalities feel the awards that result are too generous, and they can't afford them. State leaders are currently arguing about whether and how to change things up; Gov. Christie wants a "hard 2 percent cap on increases to all public employee economic compensation, including benefits such as health insurance" (note that this means if health insurance costs go up, salaries might have to be cut to meet this cap). A Democratic counter-proposal would require arbitrators to choose either a union's proposed contract or the government's, as opposed to writing one that is ostensibly a compromise between the two. (Adrienne Lu points out in her Inky article on this today that New Jersey has tried this approach, and ditched it in 1996.)

If there's a similar conversation to be had about the arbitration process in Philly, it seems to us it would be better to have it soon, when the impact of arbitration is fresh in everyone's mind but actual arbitration is pretty far off. It won't feel very fair to discuss re-tooling the process right when it's about to start.

Update: Ben Waxman reminds me that Philly's arbitration is operated under state law, so it's really Pennsylvania that would need to start thinking about this, though certainly Philly could lobby for it if it were so inclined.

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