Williamsport and Lock Haven mayors are seeking fairer ways for their cities to negotiate during arbitration with unions and to pay for growing pension costs.
Mayor Gabriel J. Campana and Lock Haven Mayor Rick Vilello held a news conference Wednesday to share proposals in the state Senate that attempt reform.
Vilello, the president of the Pennsylvania Municipal League and a member of the Coalition for Sustainable Communities, explained the pending legislation meant to introduce reforms to arbitration law that have been in place since 1968.
Mayor Rich Vilello, of Lock Haven, center, explains legislation that he will be reintroducing to the state House of Representatives and to the Senate, during a press conference held by Mayor Gabriel J. Campana, right.
"It's pro-taxpayer and pro-public safety, and it's not anti-union," Vilello said.
Among the points the coalition of 33 communities supports include ensuring any arbitration award is based on evidence presented during negotiation and calculations of new costs are determined by the municipalities' ability to pay.
"Right now, an award doesn't take into account the municipalities' ability to pay the award," Vilello said, saying the reform should be for any municipal arbitration not just those communities that fall into the financial distress category.
The coalition also wants to prohibit post-retirement health care and pension benefits from being the subject of collective bargaining.
"There would be penalties for either party failing to engage in good faith bargaining," Vilello said. "Presently," he said, "You can schedule negotiations and the union doesn't have to show up - they can automatically go to binding arbitration." The reform measure would ensure all parties sit down at the table and try to negotiate a settlement, he added.
Vilello also sees benefits in starting arbitration processes earlier.
"Instead of trying to do everything in six months," he said, "You would do it in a year or year and half before the contract is expired."
Another reform measure is expanding the list from which a neutral arbitrator is selected from three to seven, he said.
"The reason is because the municipalities would have the ability to strike the last arbitrator," he said. Now, the union gets the last pick, so the final arbitrator tends to lean toward the union side, Vilello said. "We want to take the last bite of the apple."
Another possible reform is requiring the cost of arbitration to be shared equally by both parties.
"Today, municipalities are stuck paying for arbitration," Vilello said. "There's no reason for the union not to want to go to arbitration," he said. "If they were stuck paying half the bill they would probably negotiate more seriously and both sides would stay at the table longer."
The coalition would encourage as both unions and administration present their cases, that the proceedings be open to the press and public.
"That would make for more serious proposals on both sides," Vilello said.
Finally, Vilello said the coalition supports being able to appeal an arbitration decision to the courts.
"As it is now, we're stuck with the decision, but if either side believes the decision wasn't fair there should be an appeal process," he said.
Vilello and Campana also mentioned the trend of growing pension costs breaking the banks of state and local governments.
"We want to be included when Gov. Tom Corbett tries to reform the state pension plans into what's called a cash-balance plan, where any new hires would be part of the cash-balance plan," Vilello said. "It's a defined benefit plan, but defines the percentage of the pension the employee would contribute and defines the employers' contribution."
"It's scary if we do nothing," said Councilwoman Bonnie Katz.
Williamsport's costs to fund pensions has risen by $1.7 million and health care across the board is up 11 percent.