Fine Print: Assembly Bill 3393

Contract arbitration has long been a thorn in the side of local and state officials, who look to this measure to level the bargaining table

Synopsis: Establishes “fair and final” as terminal procedure for police and fire contract arbitration.

Sponsors: Assemblyman Lewis Greenwald (D-Camden) and Assemblywoman Joan Quigley (D-Hudson)

Why it matters: New Jersey’s contract arbitration system has been a source of complaint from local and state officials for years. They have said the process of settling contract impasses is stacked against them and in favor of public employee unions, leading to higher contract awards and, in turn, higher property taxes. Among his “toolkit” package for local governments, Gov. Chris Christie has proposed putting a 2 percent cap on all arbitration awards. This legislation is more flexible, but changes how arbitrators are selected and requires that they choose from proposals made in collective bargaining and not devised their own. It also requires that arbitrators consider the state’s financial conditions, specifically its 2 percent spending caps, a requirement not currently in place.

The numbers behind the bill: Arbitration awards are not that common, with a few dozen a year, according to data released by the Democrats. In the first half of this year there were just five awards. Last year, there were 16. But in most years, the data shows that the arbitration awards have done little to bring down settlement rates. In 2009, the 60 voluntary settlements came in less than the arbitrated ones.

Why it’s not a done deal: Municipal unions representing police and fire workers are strongly against the measure, testifying this week that the arbitration system is not as dysfunctional as politicians say. On the other end, Christie is not ready to jump on board, standing strongly behind his original proposal to limit all awards to no more than 2 percent. The Assembly is slated to vote on Monday, with its budget committee releasing it on Thursday. Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) has also voiced his strong support.

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