Advocacy Blue Arrows

Communities Controlling Their Own Costs -
PA 312 and Mandatory Binding Arbitration

Source: Grand Rapids Press

Costly move expanding arbitration

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Voters should not have to cede control over their local government's checkbook to an outside intermediary. Legislation to expand binding arbitration to correction officers is wrongheaded and most likely would be costly to communities. The move would take control of spending out of the hands of those elected to represent taxpayers. Public Act 312, which mandates binding arbitration for public safety officers, cries out for repeal or massive reform.

PA 312 is the 1969 law requiring binding arbitration when police and firefighters and a government employer reach an impasse. The dispute is decided by an arbitration panel. The measure was pushed by former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, when he was a state senator. He later complained about its destruction of sensible fiscal management.

The act was approved when the thinking was that it was better to arbitrate than have public safety officers strike. But it unfairly handcuffs local governments in negotiations. Instead of trying to extend a bad practice, lawmakers need to be working on a sensible fix that paves the way for a reasonable, cost-conscious dispute resolution. Outside of that, the act should be abolished.

The House bill introduced by Rep. Fred Miller, D-Mount Clemens, would create a new act known as the Corrections Officer Compulsory Arbitration Act, based on PA 312. It would apply to corrections officers under the authority of a county sheriff. The bill would provide a binding compulsory arbitration for contract disputes. The same benefit as the road patrol. The House Labor Committee recently approved the bill 7 to 2. Rep. Glenn Steil, R-Cascade Township, wiselyvoted against it. Other West Michigan legislators should also oppose it.

The legislation comes as local governments are struggling to meet demands for services with limited resources. Binding arbitration usually increases government costs. There is no compromise, the arbitration panel must choose between the employer's final offer and the employee's. Overextended budgets of local governments are not given proper consideration. Groups such as the Michigan Association of Counties are rightly concerned about extending such legislation when the broader good of a community doesn't receive the attention deserved.

Furthermore, binding arbitration has created lower levels of employment for non-public safety employees. A ruling that results in a large pay boost for safety officers can very well mean employees in other service departments have to be reduced. Taxpayers lose when awards are overly costly.

The multiple problems with PA 312 are well documented. A 2006 report on local government services commissioned by the governor said the act must be reviewed to better define the ability of local governments to pay. Another governor-appointed panel submitted a report last year that cited the need for the act's reform.

Basing new legislation on a flawed policy makes no sense. The first step to improving Public Act 312 is to prevent it from being expanded.



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