Jerry DeMarco, a reporter with the website www.examiner.com has reported that significantly more police unions around the state are turning towards interest arbitration as a means to settle their contract due to the hard line stance that many municipalities and county governments have taken during negotiations.
DeMarco reported that the average salary increase for arbitration awards dipped slightly last year, to 3.73 percent from 3.77 percent, according to the New Jersey Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC). Furthermore, salary increases from voluntary settlements averaged 3.92 percent, down from 3.97 percent in 2007. PERC records show that in Northern New Jersey, nearly a half-dozen awards made by arbitrators this year average 3.92 a year in their overall impact on police salaries over the life of the contracts.
The article further reports that a long-running contract dispute in Englewood, New Jersey, finally ended in December, with police getting a 4% hike for 2007 through 2009, and a 3.8% increase for 2010. Fort Lee police, similarly, got 4%for 2007 and 2008 and 3.5%for 2009 and 2010. North Arlington police, who filed for arbitration nearly a year ago, were awarded 15.25%over four years in September, 2008.
Interest arbitration is always a viable option for dispute resolution when public safety unions reach an impasse with their governmental employers. The Police and Fire Public Interest Arbitration Reform Act is the statute that governs interest arbitration within the state of New Jersey; and should a public safety collective bargaining unit make the decision that contract negotiations have reached an impasse, this act will be the controlling piece of legislation in the arbitration process.
Prior to filing for interest arbitration, it is advisable that the union’s executive board familiarize themselves with the Police and Fire Public Interest Arbitration Reform Act, and the criteria that is utilized by arbitrators in issuing an award. Furthermore, the collective bargaining unit should ensure that they do not walk into the arbitration process alone. It is imperative that they consult with and hire competent counsel prior to the initiation of the petition for interest arbitration.