The Honorable Patricia D. Jehlen, Senate Chair
The Honorable Paul Brodeur, House Chair
Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development
State House, Boston

Dear Chair Jehlen, Chair Brodeur, and Members of the Committee,

On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing to submit following comments on a number of bills before the Committee at today’s public hearing. We greatly appreciate the Committee’s consideration of local government’s position regarding these important issues for public employees.

Binding Arbitration
The MMA strongly opposes H. 1595, An Act relative to binding arbitration, filed by Rep. Tackey Chan. This bill would override a key provision of Proposition 2½, and allow an unaccountable, unelected arbitrator to unilaterally impose costs on cities, towns and local taxpayers. The bill would allow public safety unions to petition the Department of Labor Relations (DLR) to initiate arbitration proceedings that are final and binding on the parties and the legislative body. If passed, this bill would walk back several decades of labor relations for public safety employees in the Commonwealth.

In 1977, the legislature created the Joint Labor Management Committee (JLMC) to oversee collective bargaining negotiations between municipal police officers or firefighters and municipalities. Until that time, arbitration awards were binding on municipalities. In 1980, the voters enacted Proposition 2½ and repealed final and binding arbitration, and mediation became the means for parties to resolve disputes, but the JLMC began to accumulate a significant backlog. In 1987, the legislature enacted Chapter 589 of the Acts and Resolves of 1987, allowing the parties to invoke limited arbitration as an additional tool of dispute resolution. Decisions resulting from this process are binding upon a municipality’s executive body and the employee organization, but are subject to the approval of funding by a municipality’s legislative body (city or town council or town meeting), thus the “limited” designation. In 1990, JLMC developed a process by which parties may voluntarily agree to limited arbitration, thereby reducing the time to a settlement agreement.

In addition to limited arbitration and voluntary limited arbitration, the JLMC uses a variety of dispute resolution methods. Often, JLMC members assist in mediations and in many cases, mediation alone will resolve a dispute. The JLMC and the dispute resolution processes that were put in place decades ago were passed to facilitate resolution of disputes more expeditiously and before they reach arbitration. Removing the resolution of disputes from JLMC, a body that is intimately familiar with public safety collective bargaining and the parties involved, would be a major step backwards. Even worse, it would be a grave mistake to allow unaccountable arbitrators to impose costly and even unaffordable contract awards on local taxpayers, with no ability to debate and decide at the local level. This would also create an incentive for the employee representatives to maximize the number of issues in dispute during negotiations in order to encourage impasses. We ask that this bill not be reported out of committee.

Employer Use of Credit Reports
The MMA respectfully requests that your Committee amend H. 1659, An Act regulating the use of credit reports by employers, to exempt municipal employers from its provisions. This bill would prohibit an employer or potential employer from using a credit report in connection with an employment purpose, or requiring an employee or applicant to answer a question about the contents of a consumer report. The bill would also exempt certain groups from its provisions, including situations where federal law intervenes, the employee or applicant applies for or holds an executive or managerial position at a financial institution or applies for or holds a position that requires national security clearance, or the employee or applicant applies for or holds a position involving significant financial responsibility to the employer involving funds or assets valued at $10,000 or more. Whereas municipal employees and municipal officials handle public funds, equipment and property, they should also be exempt from the bill’s provisions. Municipal employers are in the unique position of hiring and managing employees who handle public money and property. Ensuring the proper handling of these funds is a top priority for taxpayers, and thus municipalities should be exempted from H. 1659.

If you have any questions or need additional information, please do not hesitate to have your office contact me or MMA Senior Legislative Analyst Lisa Adams at 617-426-7272 at any time.

Thank you very much for your consideration of these important taxpayer concerns.

Sincerely,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director & CEO