A Providence Journal editorial worries that the teachers unions may have finally bought themselves binding arbitration from the legislature and governor this year.
Such a change would mean that the unions could dig in their heels when a contract is due and try their luck with a three-person arbitration panel that ultimately doesn’t have to worry about where the money will come from or what other priorities might be sacrificed, as elected boards must do. The editors note the political imbalance:
Labor interests have immense financial resources, politicians in their pockets and batteries of relentless lobbyists to help secure their gains at the State House. Citizens have little more than their own vote and their voice in trying to restrain property taxes and move Rhode Island in a healthier direction. But voices and votes, if used, can frighten enough politicians into doing the right thing.
The leverage of citizens and their elected officials in negotiations is something I’ve learned a bit about since I was elected to the Tiverton Town Council in November. When it comes to police and fire, the dynamic is very different. Not only are they dealing with emergencies and public safety, but their 24/7 schedules create challenges that fall squarely within management rights. That means arbitrators cannot touch them.
What are management rights when it comes to teachers unions? Maybe I’ve been missing something, but I’ve never gotten the sense that school departments could simply force teachers to stay in their classrooms longer without negotiating that into their contracts, for example. And any such moves may also impose requirements on students and families, making them less likely.
In other words, binding arbitration not only has less justification for teacher unions than public safety unions, but it also comes with less leverage for management. That is, it’s simply a flex of political muscle that will create huge imbalance in local budgeting.