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Lawmakers push for reform of binding arbitration - abc27 WHTM

Lawmakers push for reform of binding arbitration

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

Chambersburg firefighters don't just battle blazes. They recently battled their borough over a contract.

The fight ended in binding arbitration, and a victory for the union.

But Chambersburg council president Bill McLaughlin is not rolling over and accepting the ruling. He has taken out an open letter to lawmakers in Harrisburg's newspaper, calling for the system to be changed.

He came to the Capitol Tuesday, calling the ruling "atrocious" and the process "unfair."

"The system must be reformed before every municipality in Pennsylvania with a police force and a career fire department is driven into distress and eventually municipal bankruptcy," McLaughlin said.

Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair) says the arbitration rulings are too often pro-union. His proposal, Senate Bill 1111, offers several reforms including a change in the way arbitrators are selected.

"The neutral arbitrators only get work if the unions pick them," Eichelberger said, "so the unions want favorable opinions from these neutral arbitrators. It's a corrupt system."

"That's totally incorrect," said Les Neri, president of the Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police.

Neri says reforms to binding arbitration are unnecessary because the system isn't broken. Neri said his members lose as often as they win in binding arbitration.

Neri said police and firemen were given the opportunity to go to binding arbitration in 1968 as a concession for not being able to go on strike.

Neri dismissed SB 1111 as an attack by anti-union, conservative lawmakers.

"They want to tilt the table so far to their side by these changes," Neri said, "so only a municipal employer can benefit."

In Chambersburg, McLaughlin says raises for firefighters means a raise in taxes for borough residents.

Richard Schuettler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Municipal League, says Chambersburg is not alone and cities like Harrisburg, Carlisle, Scranton and Reading are struggling under the weight of contracts for police and firefighters.

"This is the single biggest cost driver in all those communities," Schuettler said.

But the frustration is compounded in Chambersburg for officials like McLaughlin who will be forced to raise taxes on residents to pay for a ruling by an outsider. While he blasted the system, McLaughlin also had words for arbitrator Richard Kasher, who ruled against the borough.

"Arbitrators under Act 111 have staged a coup de' etat and act with impunity in disregard to law as well as social and economic reality," McLaughlin said.

"That is taking away the elected official's authority," said Rep. Rob Kauffman, a Republican who represents Chambersburg. "An arbitrator from Villanova taking the authority of our elected officials in Chambersburg away, it makes no sense."

Other reforms proposed in Senate Bill 1111 would penalize either party for not engaging in good faith bargaining, require an arbitrator to justify a ruling, and require all proceedings to be open to the public.

The bill would also require the cost of arbitration to be shared by a municipality and its union. Currently, the municipality pays the cost.

 

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