Affirmative on arbitration: Assembly committee

TRENTON – The Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee unanimously released the newly-amended arbitration bill today, as the most recent version of the bill was still making its way into their hands.

Robert Nixon, state PBA director of government affairs, like most everyone else in the room, was still digesting the bill’s amendments.

“It’s going to take some time to decipher what it is and what that means,” Nixon said.

Above all, he likes the sunset provision and hopes this reform is just a blip on the radar.

“It’s a very important factor in this bill,” he said. “You shouldn’t extend this beyond this crisis point…You would destroy collective bargaining as we know it today.”

Assemblyman Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) agreed. “The 39-month sunset may give that young officer some hope,” he said. “With any luck we’ll get back to business as usual.”

How the state will measure the success of the bill when the sun sets after 39 months is unclear, said Assemblywoman Amy Handlin (R-Middletown).

“What are the benchmarks?” she asked. “That would be the next battle.”

Chairman Lou Greenwald (D-Voorhees), also the sponsor of the bill, said the state task force that will examine the law takes into consideration taxpayer impact, arbitration awards, crime rates, response times, staff retention, and other trends. “These are the statistics that we’re going to have to watch,” he said.

“The terms that are there are very squishy,” Handlin said.

Greenwald said, “It’s kind of like – what’s pornography? You know it when you see it.”

NJFMBA President Bill Lavin thinks the whole 2 percent cap is dubious.

“(We cannot) keep people safe in a 2 percent cap. It’s just not doable,” he said. “We’re really playing Russian roulette with people’s safety.”

Assemblyman Dave Rible (R-Wall), a former police officer, voted to release the bill – along with the rest of the committee – but called for “a couple of details that need to be worked out in the amendments.”

Greenwald expects majority support in the Assembly voting session, and noted that the Republicans were apparently given the go-ahead to vote for it.

But he admits it’s not perfect.

“I would have kept the last best offer,” he said, the process that requires arbitrators to choose the employer’s last offer or the union’s, rather than taking elements of either side’s final offers or creating their own award.

The state used the last offer in the past and found that arbitrators usually favored the unions, so the law was amended in 1996.

Without the teeth of last offer, many final offers are unrealistic, and Greenwald said the bill is really just “tinkering around the conventional arbitration” without it.

But don’t get him wrong, “These are good steps,” he said. “I hope it’s successful.”

If it has the effect current negotiations had on the Gloucester City police force – 14 layoffs out of 38 employees – then the legislature will need to dig deeper for reform.

A major concern for arbitrators will be the large task of meeting the 45-day fast-track deadline.

Nixon said the arbitrators read over nearly a hundred pages in each case, and face fines if they go over the 45 days.

Affirmative on arbitration: Assembly committee