Interest Arbitration: Frequently Asked Questions

State correctional employees perform one of the most stressful, dangerous jobs in the United States. The statistics bear that out in striking detail. The State of Washington, however, has failed to acknowledge the uniquely dangerous nature of corrections’ work, and has failed to adequately address staff safety issues.

The Washington State Legislature must take action to pass interest arbitration legislation for correctional employees – HB1490.  Interest arbitration would allow a neutral arbitrator, mutually selected, to settle contract disputes that cannot be resolved in negotiations.

County correctional employees, the Washington State Patrol, local police officers, firefighters and other law enforcement and public safety professionals have broad interest arbitration rights. It is time that our State’s correctional employees are afforded these rights as well.

What is interest arbitration?

A:

Interest arbitration is a process whereby the issues not resolved in contract negotiations between the employer and the union may be presented to an impartial arbitrator for final resolution. Interest arbitration is not permitted under RCW 41.80. However, Washington State Ferries employees, home care individual providers, and commissioned officers of the Washington State Patrol have access to interest arbitration. Typically, interest arbitration is provided to employees who engage in essential services, such as public safety, and who therefore do not have the right to strike.

How does interest arbitration work?

A:

Interest arbitration, when the law allows for it, is a mechanism for resolving a bargaining dispute. When the employer and union negotiate to impasse on a mandatory subject of bargaining, the parties hire an impartial third party arbitrator. This arbitrator conducts a formal hearing in which the parties present their positions. The arbitrator then reviews the testimony and supporting evidence and decides on what the contract language should be by issuing an arbitration award.

How is interest arbitration different from grievance arbitration?

A:

Interest arbitration resolves disputes that arise in collective bargaining negotiations between the employer and the union. Grievance arbitration resolves disputes over interpretation of an existing contract provision. Interest arbitration is not permitted under RCW 41.80. Your collective bargaining agreement provides for grievance arbitration.

How is an arbitrator selected?

A:

Upon receiving a list of arbitrators from an organization like the American Arbitration Association (AAA) or Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services (FMCS), the employer and the union go through a striking selection process to determine an arbitrator. AAA is a private, non-profit organization that promotes arbitration as a method for settling disputes outside of the courtroom. Many of the collective bargaining agreements reference AAA as the agreed-upon service to supply an arbitrator. FMCS is an independent, federal agency that provides mediation, conflict resolution, training, and arbitration services to the private sector and governmental agencies.

Why is it important that WA State Correctional Employees be granted interest arbitration rights?

A:

State correctional employees perform one of the most stressful, dangerous jobs in the United States. The State of Washington, however, has failed to acknowledge the uniquely dangerous nature of corrections’ work. County correctional employees, the Washington State Patrol, local police officers, firefighters and other law enforcement and public safety professionals have broad interest arbitration rights. It is time that our State’s correctional employees are afforded these rights as well.

 

What makes corrections' work unique?

A:

Correctional employees have an extraordinarily stressful job. Every day they put their lives on the line to protect the public. The stress of working alongside convicted felons takes its toll:

  • Correctional officers have one of the highest rates of non-fatal on-the-job injuries.
  • Suicide rates among corrections employees is 39% higher than any other occupation.
  • The average life expectancy of a corrections officer is 58 years old.

In contract negotiations, Washington State has refused to acknowledge the uniquely stressful and dangerous nature of corrections’ work. Correctional employees are treated like employees of any other state agency.

How will interest arbitration help WA State correctional employees?

A:

For too long, WA State correctional employees have not been given the respect they deserve. Interest arbitration will help WA State correctional employees in the following ways:

  • Interest arbitration will ensure a level playing field and give DOC employees the respect, dignity, and fairness in negotiations that is long overdue.
  • With interest arbitration, contract proposals that remain unresolved in bargaining would be given fair, impartial consideration.
  • Interest arbitration will prevent costly litigation and reduce the number of unfair labor practice charges the State must investigate.
  • Correctional employees have given up the right to strike because of their dedication to public safety. Interest arbitration will provide a fair and timely process for addressing issues in contract negotiations that might otherwise result in a labor dispute.
  • County correctional employees, the Washington State Patrol, local police officers, firefighters and other law enforcement and public safety professionals have broad interest arbitration rights; Correctional employees must be afforded these rights as well.
  • Correctional employees should have the same rights that have been granted to every other public safety group in Washington State.

Will interest arbitration have a significant impact on the State budget?

A:

No.  Interest arbitration will not have a significant fiscal impact on the State budget:

  • Interest arbitration provides an incentive for the parties to reach an agreement; it prevents costly litigation and appeals’ processes and reduces the number of unfair labor practice charges the State must investigate.
  • Since 2007, there have been only 6 interest arbitration decisions regarding county corrections despite the fact that 19 counties are interest arbitration eligible.
  • Local 117 has not gone to interest arbitration with its eligible groups for over a decade.
  • HB1490 contains a “fiscal feasibility” clause, which would protect the State in the event of an unreasonably costly award.

View a PDF of interest arbitration talking points here.