Bill Would Keep Union Contracts until New Pacts ; Labor

Article excerpt

The bill would codify a general practice and change rules for binding arbitration

PROVIDENCE -- Public-sector unions came out in support of a bill heard in the Senate Labor Committee on Wednesday that would allow municipal labor contracts to remain in effect until a new agreement is reached, as well as rewrite parts of the state's "binding arbitration" process for city and town workers.

Introduced by Sen. Frank A. Ciccone, D-Providence, the proposal would create what is sometimes referred to as a "perpetual" contract, by essentially allowing municipal labor union contracts to remain in effect past their expiration date.

Supporters have argued that the measure simply codifies past practice, in which municipalities honored existing union contracts until a new bargaining agreement was reached. But opponents, including the local Tea Party groups, have argued such provision would create a "disincentive" for unions to reach negotiated agreements with cities and towns.

Labor unions on Wednesday focused on the part of Ciccone's proposal that would amend the "binding arbitration" provisions for city and town workers.

Specifically, the proposal would add language outlining various "factors" that an arbitrator must consider when rendering a decision on a labor dispute, such as physical, mental and educational qualifications and comparing "wage rates" and "hourly conditions of employment" across other similar sectors.

They argued that binding arbitration -- when a neutral party intervenes in a dispute to make a decision that both sides must accept -- helps "level the playing field" for labor unions that generally do not have any "leverage" in contract negotiations, besides striking. …