[The education reform issues have attracted so much traffic that in the coming week I’ll continue Wait, What? but will create a parallel blog that will focus exclusively on education reform issues – suggestions for a name are welcome]
Binding Arbitration: The process by which the parties to a dispute submit their differences to the judgment of an impartial person or group appointed by mutual consent or statutory provision.
Some “education reformers” are calling for an end to the teacher seniority system or want to “reform tenure as we know it,” but actively opposing binding arbitration?
That’s a new one for me.
Here in Connecticut it’s been a while since we’ve heard legitimate advocacy groups call for an end to binding arbitration.
Binding arbitration has been universally recognized as an appropriate and successful way to resolve contract disputes without strikes or lockouts. It’s a system that ensures that, even if there is a contract dispute, government services, including schools, will continue to function.
More than 36 years ago, Connecticut adopted a system of binding arbitration for municipal employees. Binding arbitration was then expanded in 1979 to cover all teachers and in 1986, with a Democratic Governor and the Republicans in control of both chambers of the General Assembly, binding arbitration was extended to cover state employees.
As a freshman state legislator I remember watching as the great Otto Neumann of the 62nd House District, a respected, common-sense Republican, rose to address the House Chamber as to why Republicans and Democrats had come together to institute a fair arbitration system that would ensure that the public received the services it was entitled to even in the face of contract disagreements between the state and its unions.
Negotiation, mediation and if absolutely necessary, arbitration would put an end to public employee strikes. Children would return to classes at the beginning of the school year no matter what. Just look around at some other states to see the sad alternative.
While some have talked about “tinkering” with the actual arbitration process, it has been widely recognized as a huge success.
The Connecticut Legislature’s bi-partisan Program Review & Investigations Committee conducted a major study about the impact of binding arbitration and released their report in 2006.
The investigation found that binding arbitration was used in about 10 percent of teacher contracts and only 4 percent of the time in municipal employee contracts.
Over the years, when it came to salary increases, the last best offers for towns and unions were about 1% apart. In the time period studies these differences actually ranged from 0.7 percent to 1.2 percent.
As for arbitration awards for teacher contracts, arbitrators came down on the side of the boards of education and teachers at about the same rate. Teacher unions were a bit more successful when it came to salary increases while towns were more successful when it came it came to the important contract language.
The final report concluded that “Overall, the committee found no evidence that arbitration has driven up costs. For the period analyzed, higher general wage increases were not found in arbitration awards in comparison to negotiated contracts.”
With that as the background I was really surprised to find that when the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN) calls for an end to the seniority system which they say requires districts to lay off teachers based solely on seniority without regard to any factors of job performance” they go on to demand that binding arbitration be reformed “to ensure that future collective bargaining agreements better account for the interests of children.”
Unfortunately, there appears to be no reference as to what ConnCAN means when it comes to “reforming binding arbitration.”
However we can get a better sense of what is meant when we look to ConnCAN’s sister organization RI-CAN. As their website explains, RI-CAN is part of “50CAN: The 50 State Campaign for Achievement Now, which aims to bring ConnCAN-style campaigns and ConnCAN-style success to states across the country.”
Readers may recall that in 2005 a group of Achievement First’s Directors set up ConnCAN and the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc., ConnCAN serves as the “education” arm of the operation while the second company spent the next five years paying over half a million dollars to lobby Connecticut’s executive and legislative branches of government. It wasn’t until last year that ConnCAN started paying the bill for the lobbyists, which, by that time had reached $95,000 a-year.
Meanwhile, one of the Achievement First/ConnCAN directors formed yet another group called 50CAN which “was created to bring this proven model [ConnCAN] to new states, starting with Rhode Island, Minnesota, New York and Maryland and reaching half the country by 2015. One will note that 50CAN’s organizing plan tracks nicely with Achievement First’s strategic plan.
So two years ago, RI-CAN was formed in Rhode Island to do what ConnCAN has been doing in Connecticut.
RI-CAN’s Executive Director Maryellen Butke, who is the equivalent to Patrick Riccards, ConnCAN’s new Executive Director here in Connecticut, is far clearer about how the CAN organization sees binding arbitration.
Despite the fact that binding arbitration has been recognized as a great success, RI-CAN’s Butke recently said that “Binding arbitration would be a disaster for students, localities”
In a commentary piece in the Providence Journal last June she stakes out RI-CAN’s position saying “Rhode Island has made great leaps forward in the past few years in the effort to transform our schools. Binding arbitration would be a costly step backwards that would reverse much of the progress we have made. Our message to the General Assembly is simple: Do what’s best for kids and reject binding arbitration.”
In addition, a group of anti-union activists created the Rhode Island Coalition against Binding Arbitration last summer with RI-CAN as its first member organization.
In Connecticut ConnCAN may call it “reforming” binding arbitration; in Rhode Island they call it a disaster and are lobbying against it.
It makes me wonder what some of ConnCAN’s Advisory Board Members would say.
Are they opposed to binding arbitration. Do they know they are on the advisory board to a group that does?
If you see any of the following individuals ask them whether they too, as advisers to ConnCAN, oppose binding arbitration:
Lorraine M. Aronson (Former Vice President and CFO, University of Connecticut and Former Connecticut Deputy Commissioner of Education)
Timothy Bannon (Former Chief of Staff for Governor Dannel Malloy)
William J. Cibes (Former Chancellor, Connecticut State University System and Former Secretary, Office of Policy and Management)
William Ginsberg (President and CEO, Community Foundation for Greater New Haven)
Janice M. Gruendel, Ph.D., M.Ed. (Deputy Commissioner, Department of Children and Families)
Dr. Richard C. Levin (President, Yale University)
Dr. Julia M. McNamara (President, Albertus Magnus College)
Anthony P. Rescigno (President, Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce)
Dr. Theodore Sergi (Former Connecticut State Commissioner of Education)
Allan B. Taylor (Chairman, Connecticut State Board of Education)