Senator Prusi's Bright Idea

A backhanded case for overhauling public-sector bargaining law

During a hearing on binding arbitration last Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mike Prusi poo-pooed concerns that the risk of arbitration affected all collective bargaining, leading local officials to make concessions that they otherwise would not make. According to Gongwer, Prusi said that "[i]f they're negotiating out of fear, then they don't belong at the negotiating table." (Subscription required)

Unfortunately, the state's collective bargaining law allows for no such exception; scared or confident, local officials must negotiate collectively. And arbitration cannot help but affect how negotiations play out. If arbitrators have a reputation for favoring unions, it only makes sense for union officials to take a harder line in negotiations. If they tend to favor employers, then the local government's negotiator has the stronger hand. It's not fear, it's common sense.

But Prusi's tough-guy talk does suggest another compromise approach -- we can keep the binding arbitration law as is, but if local officials submit an affadivit testifying to their being afraid of what might come out of negotiations (unreasonable work rules, extravagant benefits, tax increases, insolvency, etc.), they get to skip collective bargaining altogether and implement their best offer. That just might work for the taxpayers who ultimately have to pay the bills.