Collective-bargaining trap Binding arbitration: Governor's plan cedes salary clout to unions, robs state of powers.

March 12, 1996

IN TRYING to curry favor with state employee unions, Gov. Parris N. Glendening wants to give them leverage that would mean more frequent and bigger pay increases, plus better fringe benefits -- without them having to worry about such things as legislative approval or the budget impact.

What the governor wants is not just a collective bargaining bill, but a measure containing a form of binding arbitration that would put legislators and executive officials in a straitjacket.

The dangers of this approach are clear. New York should serve as an example. There, the state legislature recently overrode objections from the governor and mayor and approved binding arbitration for the New York City police union. This could mean $200 million in extra salary costs for the deficit-ridden city. As a result, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is considering such distasteful cutbacks as using one-person patrol cars and reducing police overtime.

In government, binding arbitration is a bad idea. It robs legislatures and governors of their budget-making powers, placing financial decisions in the hands of unelected arbiters. Even worse, the Glendening bill sets up a baseball-style "take it or leave it" situation: The arbitrator can't devise a compromise but must side totally with the government or the union.

Collective bargaining in government also plays into the hands of the largest employee unions, which would squeeze out smaller competitors as bargaining agents. But then each of the dozen or so state bargaining units would compete to see which one could extract the largest concessions from the governor. This would ratchet up the cost and would make it more and more difficult for a governor to resist salary and benefits demands from unions.

The Glendening bill would complicate employee relations and inflate the price of government. It is not needed. What is needed is another bill offered by the governor to reward state workers who give outstanding service. That is a long-overdue step, opposed by organized labor, to give workers in government incentives for doing their jobs well.

Despite his denials, Mr. Glendening is trying to appease both labor and business with these bills. He should abandon his drive for collective bargaining because it would worsen, not improve, state government operations. And he should push hard for a pay-for-performance plan that can pass legislative muster. A good merit-pay law might work wonders for the morale and efficiency of state government.

Pub Date: 3/12/96

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