NAUGATUCK — Local legislators and businesspeople discussed ideas and issues over breakfast last week.
The Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual Legislative Breakfast Feb. 6 at Jesse Camille’s Restaurant. State representatives Theresa Conroy (D-105), Rosa Rebimbas (R-70) and David Labriola (R-131) and state Sen. Joan Hartley (D-15) spoke before a crowd on roughly 30 people.
The legislators touched on a range of topics, but one dominated the discussion — binding arbitration.
Binding arbitration is the process that settles collective bargaining agreement disputes between a municipality and a union. It is conducted by three judges.
John Ford of Alderson-Ford Funeral Homes said binding arbitration has its pros and cons.
“Binding arbitration, in my mind, is a benefit to the employee because there is a potential for checks and balances. On the other hand, the rewards given out in binding arbitrations are exorbitant,” Ford said.
Labriola and Rebimbas criticized the current binding arbitration process.
“Ideally, I’d like to scrap binding arbitration, but that’s not realistic. So what’s possible? We could make some procedural changes that would have a great impact on our local budgets. Every singe municipality is struggling. The system is geared towards helping out unions. That trickles to the whole community and the business community, and makes it so difficult to balance a budget,” Labriola said.
Labriola and Rebimbas have introduced a bill that would that would reform binding arbitration, including capping awards to the prevailing Consumer Price Index. They are seeking a public hearing on the proposal.
Labriola said he was told early last week the House of Representatives would not bring the bill to a public hearing.
“A lot of our ideas are falling on deaf ears,” Labriola said.
Labriola said he’s hoping to put parts of the bill on other bills that come before the House.
Rebimbas said other legislators have proposed reforms to binding arbitration throughout the years, but the government as a whole has never acted on any of them.
“Democrats and Republicans and Independents agree that binding arbitration has been a huge financial challenge for towns and cities around the state,” Rebimbas said.
Though she was in favor of making some changes, Hartley spoke overwhelmingly in favor of binding arbitration.
“Binding arbitration has great value. It has worked. I remember some years in past days of my early teaching career … being on a picket line with the schools closed down. That’s kind of what the alternative is. There is value to binding arbitration,” Hartley said.
Hartley pointed to the Waterbury Police Department. She said the city has been negotiating with the police union on a new contract for three years, which has led to new recruits leaving for better paying jobs elsewhere in the state.
“It’s important to maintain a good workplace and a competitive workplace, just as in any industry,” Hartley said.
Dan Ford, who served as a firefighter in Naugatuck for 11 years, said reforms will help, but binding arbitration should remain in place.
“I definitely agree with reform to the binding arbitration process. However, it all starts with the negotiation process. When you have unfair negotiators on one side of the table, whether it be union or the municipality, everything breaks down,” Dan Ford said. “I think it does need reform, but not being scrapped all together.”