2006-01-06 / Editorial/Opinion

Mandatory Binding Arbitration: The Key To Labor Peace

The three-day transit strike that virtually closed down New York City and forced hundreds of thousands of city residents to find alternative mean to get to work is a prime example of why the Taylor Law was passed in the first place. That law forbids public employees from striking, offering arbitration as an alternative to a strike. The problem with the Taylor Law has always been its back-story – that the city or public agency always bargained in good faith in the name of city residents while workers were the greedy group out to get anything it could at the expense of taxpayers, a cabal to be stopped at all costs. Time has shown over and over again that the back-story is not necessarily true. Often, the city or an agency such as the MTA does not bargain in good faith, forcing the union to look to the nuclear option – the strike. We think that the solution is mandatory binding arbitration, where both parties argue their point of view and a panel of three (one chosen by the city, one by the union and the third, an impartial person chosen by an arbitration association) and the panel chooses not a binding compromise, but a binding decision from one of the two options. At present, binding arbitration is triggered when the State’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) declares an impasse or when both of the parties request the arbitration. In last month’s strike, PERB never declared an impasse (its members are chosen by the Governor and he did not want to risk the union winning) nor, for political and union control issues, did either of the protagonists want to go to arbitration. That is why is should be mandatory as soon as it is obvious that there is an impasse that cannot be breached and that point is reached when talks break down and a strike vote is taken and approved by the union membership. Neither the city nor the unions like mandatory arbitration. That is why it is a perfect solution for the public interest. The main issue then is whether the panel that hears the two sides is, in fact, impartial. That problem, however, can be easily overcome by using federal arbitrators, far removed from the questions involved. All that would be taken into consideration would be the public interest, the compensation and benefits of the workers in relation to other, similar workers in the region, the employer’s ability to pay and the possible impact on the decision of services. What more could either the union or the city ask?

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