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Massachusetts Bill Proposing More Power to Arbitrators Still Stalled in State Legislation

Tuesday, October, 8, 2013


Massachusetts State Representative Martin J.  Walsh, a finalist in the Boston mayoral race,continues to push for an arbitration bill to be passed, to ease the effects of legal problems with police and firefighter unions.  However, some within the state are arguing that the opposite would happen—it would make those problems worse. 


Walsh’s bill proposes that the arbitrator’s ruling on contractual disputes would be legally binding without the approval of the city councils involved.  When speaking about the legislation, Walsh stated that “the biggest piece is the fiscal piece, which is not in the current structure.  Today, the award is voted up or down [by the city council].  Binding arbitration would give us the ability, when an award comes out, to see whether a city or town would be able to sustain the increase.”


Even though current legislation requires that the arbitrator consider the fiscal situation of the city before awarding a ruling, those who protest Walsh’s arbitration bill warn that allowing an arbitrator to have the final (and only) say in contractual and fiscal matters gives him or her too much power in a city’s affairs.  Michael J. Widmer, president of a state budget watchdog organization, states “That’s a major difference from current law, taking the city council out of the equation gives much more power to the arbitrator.  It’s really a step backward for financial accountability to the taxpayers.  It would seriously weaken the city’s hand.”


The bill in question was first filed in 2002 and was derived from cooperation between Walsh and the Massachusetts state firefighter’s union as part of Walsh’s campaign promises.  However, the bill has still not gained the necessary momentum it needs to pass into law.