A new law updating the state’s compulsory arbitration law won’t apply to two dozen unsettled union contracts in the state — including ones in Greenburgh, New Rochelle and North Castle — thanks to a “last-minute bill language tweak sought by police and firefighter unions,” E.J. McMahon, senior fellow for the fiscally conservative Empire Center for New York State Policy, wrote on the group’s NY Torch blog.
New York’s binding arbitration law expired July 1. It was first enacted in 1974 and has been renewed routinely for decades, McMahon said. The law permits police, firefighters and other unionized law enforcement officials to resolve labor contract disputes through binding arbitration, an option not available to most other public employees.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo sought in his 2013-14 budget to place a 2 percent cap on the total value of arbitration, like the state’s annual cap on the property-tax levy (2 percent or the level of inflation, whichever is less). The Legislature “predictably balked” at the proposal.
The bill that passed, and has since been signed by the governor, requires arbitrators to give more weight to a government employer’s “ability to pay” and “recognize and take into account … the constraints, obligations and requirements imposed by” the property-tax cap, according to McMahon. The change only applies to local governments that are in fiscal trouble, measured by tax levels or budget reserves, he said. The law doesn’t provide rules for determining and defining ability to pay.
McMahon claims the governor “caved to union demands” at the end of this year’s legislative session to get the bill through the Legislature. The legislation was to exempt disputes in which either party had formally petitioned for Public Employment Relations Board arbitration by June 14. However, that was changed to exclude from the law any dispute in which either party formally filed a declaration of impasse — the step before arbitration — by June 14.
A recent Empire Center study found that binding arbitration awards filed with the state between 2003 and 2012 involved 104 different bargaining units, about 25 percent of the total eligible. Salary increases averaged 3.6 percent a year from 2003 to 2007 and 3.3 percent annually from 2008 to 2012, excluding step increments and longevity pay. Four of 136 arbitrations included a pay freeze in any year, and less than half included cost savings for employers on health insurance benefits.
These are the two dozen contract disputes that were carved out of the law, according to Public Employment Relations Board records, McMahon said: