Binding Arbitration Sprouts in Green Tree

Act 111-the law that governs collective bargaining and contract resolution for police and firefighters-is coming into play in the South Hills suburb of Green Tree. Police and fire personnel (along with prison guards and people necessary to the functioning of courts) are prohibited from going on strike in Pennsylvania, so contract disputes are subject to a binding arbitration process spelled out in the law, which has been on the books since 1968.

Just because it has stood the test of time does not mean Act 111 does not need to be reformed. That’s what can be seen in the community in question where police wages account for 21% of the borough’s $7 million budget. Officers are making wages comparable to neighboring communities and have full health care benefits. But they are asking for raises in excess of what other bargaining units have received, prompting the manager to opine "we just don’t think the raise they’re asking for is reasonable in these economic times. It’s not in line with the raises we’ve given other employees".

The Act 111 process does not mandate that the arbitrators on the matter look at what the town can afford, what comparable professions make, or any fact-finding process at all. This is in stark contrast to other states. And if the arbitration panel rules in favor of the wage rates preferred by the police it is considered a mandate to the borough to pay it. On top of that Green Tree has to pay for its arbitrator and the third neutral panel member along with all the associated stenographic costs.

Act 111 has not been systematically evaluated by the state since the late 1970s, and the only "trump card" is for a municipality to enter into Act 47 which prevents bargaining agreements executed after the adoption of a recovery plan from violating its provisions.