Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Union Must Submit to Binding Interest Arbitration

Stationary Engineers Local 39 (2009) PERB Decision No. 2041-M (Issued on 6/29/09)

In this case, PERB affirmed an ALJ’s proposed decision finding that the Stationary Engineers Local 39 (Local 39) violated the MMBA by refusing to participate in binding interest arbitration pursuant to San Francisco’s local rules. What is interesting in this case is the position advacned by Local 39. Local 39 argued that San Francisco’s binding interest arbitration provision conflicted with the MMBA. According to the decision:

“Local 39 contends that interest arbitration conflicts with the MMBA's ‘intent that
agreements be reached by bargaining, rather than being imposed by the unilateral declaration of one side of the bargaining process.’ Agreements should be the result of compromise and a "reasonable accommodation of the needs of both parties.”

In other words, Local 39 argued that San Francisco’s binding arbitration procedure was an unreasonable local rule under the MMBA because terms and conditions of employment are imposed upon the parties, rather than reached through negotiations. PERB easily rejected that argument. However, I think it’s safe to say that Local 39’s position on binding interest arbitration is unusual and certainly not shared with most (if not all) other unions. Indeed, the ALJ noted in the decision that, “it is commonly known that many unions believe interest arbitration to serve their interests.” That’s an understatement. The reality is that San Francisco is one of only two local agencies (the other being Vallejo) where binding interest arbitration is available to non-safety employees. I’m willing to bet that non-safety unions in other cities and counties would love to have what Local 39 has in San Francisco.

However, looking at Local 39’s history, I’m not surprised by its position in this case. Over the years I’ve (very grudgingly) developed a respect for Local 39. The engineers have a reputation for hard bargaining and a willingness to engage in job actions. They also (like SEIU) understand the critical need for organizing. That makes them a force to be reckoned with and explains why they have been very successful in many places. They obviously feel that with their success, they can gain more for their members through traditional bargaining rather than relying on binding interest arbitration. In some sense, Local 39’s desire to stick with traditional bargaining is refreshing.