The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would make changes to how work contract disputes are settled between cities and labor unions.
Senate Bill 826, by Sen. David Holt, R-
The bill is one of several Republican proposals in the Legislature this year to change how public employee compensation is handled as the state and cities look to tighten budgets and address various funding shortfalls.
At issue in SB 826 is a collective bargaining process called binding arbitration that occurs when contract negotiations fail between a local government and police or firefighter labor union.
When that happens, each side's best offers are sent to a panel of three arbitrators who choose the winning offer. The city and union each choose an arbitrator. The third, deciding arbitrator is agreed on by both sides and is often a mediator from out of state.
City officials statewide have complained the process takes multimillion dollar spending decisions out of their hands and leaves them up to the out-of-state arbitrator.
Holt initially proposed eliminating binding arbitration, arguing it is unfair to cities and taxpayers. He has since worked with city and union officials to modify the process rather than eliminate it.
“I think we've reformed the process and made it a little more fair,” Holt said.
Among the proposals in the bill approved Thursday are giving preference to arbitrators from Oklahoma and changing the criteria arbitrators use when considering contract offers.
Chalk Norton, a lobbyist for Professional Firefighters of Oklahoma, said while he has worked with Holt on the bill, his group has maintained it would prefer no changes to binding arbitration.
Several firefighter unions have spoken out opposing the bill. However, the state Fraternal Order of Police supports the bill, said Bobby Stem, a lobbyist for the police union.
SB 826 goes to the House, where it is being carried by Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman, whose own bills attempting to change arbitration and other collective bargaining practices are awaiting hearing in the full House and have also received firefighter union opposition.
SB 826 passed the Senate with Republican support. Some Republicans voted against it and joined Democrats in criticizing it as unfair to workers.
“To say this is leveling the playing field is just saying cities get an advantage,” said Sen. Roger Ballenger, D-
The title is off the bill, meaning it will have to come back to the Senate for another vote if it passes the House.