A pending change to the state’s binding arbitration law covering police and firefighter contract disputes will not cover pending contract impasses involving firefighters in Syracuse thanks to a last-minute tweak of the bill by Governor Andrew Cuomo. As a result, taxpayers in one of the state’s largest cities (and undoubtedly some other cities and towns as well) will not see any benefit at all from Cuomo’s already watered-down modification of the existing arbitration law.*
As explained here yesterday, hours after the draft of the agreed-upon local government “financial restructuring” bill was released by the governor’s office late Tuesday morning, the bill was revised to reflect two changes sought by police and fire unions.
The first change pushed back the expiration date of the new temporary law from 2015 to 2016. The second change dealt with the effective date of the new arbitration provisions. As originally drafted, the bill affected all collectively bargained or arbitrated settlements that expired before April 1, except for disputes in which either party had formally petitioned for Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) arbitration by last Friday, June 14. In the final version of the governor’s bill, that paragraph was expanded with wording that also excludes from the law any dispute in which either party formally filed a declaration of impasse with PERB before June 14. Note: impasse is the stage prior to arbitration and does not guarantee arbitration will follow.
The Syracuse Fire Fighters Local 280, whose contract expired Dec. 31, filed an impasse declaration in mid-May, city officials have confirmed. As a result of Cuomo’s change to the final bill, if the dispute ends up in arbitration, it will not be affected by the new arbitration rules, which are supposed to hold down the cost of compensation increases in cases where the employer qualifies as fiscally distressed.
Even before the final tweaks to Cuomo’s bill, the agreed-upon bill represented a substantial retreat from the governor’s original proposal to cap arbitration settlements for police and firefighters. The last-minute changes, including the clause clearly designed to affect an untold number of unions from the new law’s impact, simply adds insult to injury for taxpayers in the affected counties, towns and cities.
* A previous version of this blog post incorrectly reported that a contract impasse between the city of Yonkers and its firefighters would also not be subject to the new arbitration provisions.
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