OLR Research Report

October 20, 2003




By: John Moran, Research Analyst

Judith Lohman, Chief Analyst

You asked for a brief legislative history of the municipal and teacher binding arbitration laws, particularly the changes since 1990.


The three main public employee groups in Connecticut, municipal employees, public school teachers, and state employees, are each covered by a separate collective bargaining law. Each law uses mandatory binding arbitration to resolve negotiation impasses. All three groups are legally prohibited from striking.

The first public employee binding arbitration law was enacted in 1975 for municipal employees. It amended an existing law, the Municipal Employee Relations Act (MERA). The teacher binding arbitration law, passed in 1979, amended the Teacher Negotiation Act (TNA). The General Assembly enacted binding arbitration for state employees in 1986.

All three laws use a form of arbitration known as “last best offer by issue. ” This kind of arbitration requires the arbitrator to choose between the final offers of the parties on each disputed issue.

All three laws were passed after earlier laws granting collective bargaining rights to covered employees had been in effect for several years, and all three were passed because those earlier laws lacked an impasse resolution procedure that could serve as a meaningful substitute for a strike. In passing each of the binding arbitration laws, the General Assembly amended laws seen as unfair to public employees and as failing either to provide full bargaining rights to those employees or to promote labor peace. In each case, proponents of binding arbitration argued that the new laws were needed to produce a balance of power between public employers and employees and thereby to promote serious negotiations and good faith bargaining.

The three laws all remain substantially intact. Proposals to amend them to reduce the authority of the arbitrators and to remedy what many see as the antidemocratic bias of mandatory binding arbitration are a regular feature of most legislative sessions. So far, none of these proposals to change the basic structure of binding arbitration for public employees in Connecticut has succeeded in the General Assembly.

OLR reports 90-R-510 and 90-R-549 detail the provisions and debate surrounding the initial enactment of TNA and MERA binding arbitration, respectively. Read together, these two reports show the similarities not only of the laws' provisions but also of the situations that produced them and the arguments presented for and against them when they were passed.


Although TNA and MERA have both been amended since 1990, the TNA has been amended more often.

The most significant change in both laws was enacted in 1992, when the General Assembly, for the first time, allowed town legislative bodies to reject initial arbitration awards. But the legislature nevertheless preserved the finality of binding arbitration for municipal and school board labor negotiations by requiring rejected awards to be submitted to a second panel of arbitrators and making the second panel’s award final and binding on both parties.

Other TNA amendments include changes in the arbitrators’ criteria for deciding impasses and in the relative weight accorded to certain considerations, procedural requirements for arbitration, and the process for selecting arbitrators. Other MERA changes established a statutory

process for selecting a panel’s neutral arbitrators, established a procedure and timetable for arbitrating impasses arising in the first contract negotiated by a new bargaining unit and a municipal employer, and increased arbitrators’ fees.

1990 – TNA

PA 90-325 (sHB 5924) required:

1. the State Board of Education (SBE) to adopt regulations governing its submission of the names of potential impartial arbitrators to the governor;

2. the education commissioner, instead of union and school board representatives, to randomly select a neutral arbitrator from the neutral arbitrator list;

3. the commissioner to develop a process to annually evaluate the arbitrators' performances;

4. arbitrators' written decisions to specify how they considered (a) the required factors in making their decisions and (b) the total cost of all the last best offers they accepted;

5. that a representative of the local fiscal authority be heard at arbitration hearings to testify about the school district's financial capability, unless it waives the opportunity;

6. the commissioner to report annually on the results of all contract negotiations during the preceding year;

7. the SBE to monitor salary settlements and other major economic provisions of contracts; and

8. the commissioner's report and the SBE’s findings to be submitted to the Education and Program Review committees, annually.

1991 TNA

PA 91-352 (sHB 7177) made more specific some of the factors arbitrators have to consider in deciding issues under TNA. It required:

1. consideration of the negotiations between the parties to include the offers and the range and discussion of issues;

2. consideration of the public interest and the school district’s financial capability to include other demands on town finances;

3. consideration of changes in the cost of living to be averaged over the preceding three years; and

4. consideration of the salaries, benefits, and other conditions of employment in the state labor market to include the terms of recent contract settlements or awards in the private sector and for other municipal employee organizations.

1992 – TNA and MERA

In 1992, the General Assembly passed two acts amending the binding arbitration provisions of both TNA and MERA: PA 92-84 (sHB 5566) and PA 92-170 (sSB 343). The latter extensively amended the former.

The acts allowed a local legislative body, by a two-thirds vote, to reject teacher, school administrator, and other municipal employee arbitration awards. Towns must reject the whole award and not individual issues. A rejected award must be submitted to a second arbitration by a three-member panel of neutral arbitrators or, if the parties agree, to a single arbitrator chosen by the education commissioner, in the case of a teacher or school administrator award, or the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration, in the case of a municipal employee award.

In the second arbitration proceeding, the arbitration panel or single arbitrator must choose one of the parties’ last best offers on each issue. The award of the second panel or single arbitrator is final and binding on both parties. The local legislative body must pay the reasonable expenses
of the second arbitration proceeding.

The laws created a new panel of at least 20 neutral arbitrators to chair arbitration panels that render decisions in the first round of MERA arbitration. They established a selection committee, made up equally of labor and municipal employer representatives appointed by the labor commissioner, to appoint members of the new panel. Each appointee must receive the selection committee's unanimous approval. (These provisions already applied to the TNA under state regulations. )

The acts changed the criteria arbitrators must use to make decisions in both rounds of arbitration to require the public interest and the municipality's ability to pay to be paramount and reduced the terms of the TNA arbitration panel members from four years (concurrent with the governor's term) to two years.

1993 – MERA

PA 93-17 (sHB 6844) restored the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration’s authority to impose binding arbitration when a municipal employer and a union representing a new municipal bargaining unit reach an impasse in negotiations over their first contract. It also established a specific timetable for negotiations over such first contracts.

1997 – TNA

PA 97-177 (sSB 1107) (1) allowed a school board and union to agree on neutral arbitrators for teacher and school administrator binding arbitration proceedings and (2) removed town budget reserve funds of 5% or less from consideration when arbitrators decide whether a school district can afford to pay for a teacher or school administrator arbitration award.

1998 – TNA

PA 98-252 (sHB 5118) gave a teachers' or school administrators' union and a local or regional board of education five days after notifying the education commissioner that their contract negotiations are at an impasse to tell him the name of the agreed-upon single arbitrator or neutral chair of the three-member arbitration panel that will decide the dispute, if they agree on the person. Previously, the parties had to notify the commissioner of the agreed-upon names at the same time they notified him of the impasse.

1999 – MERA

PA 99-270 (sHB 7011) (1) increased the fees of State Board of Mediation and Arbitration arbitrators from $ 50 for each day after the second day of proceedings to $ 75 for each day after the first day of proceedings, (2) established a $ 75 arbitrator fee for each executive session, and (3) made technical changes.

2000 – TNA

PA 00-204 (SB 160) required the lists TNA arbitration panel nominees submitted to the governor by the SBE, local school boards, and teachers’ and school administrators’ unions to include a report from SBE certifying that the process for soliciting panel applicants included adequate outreach to minorities and documenting that the number and type of minority applicants considered reflect the state’s racial and ethnic diversity. It also made the list comply with a law requiring appointing authorities to make a good faith effort to ensure that appointees are qualified and represent the state’s gender and racial diversity.

PA 00-220 required arbitrators to notify a school district’s fiscal authority of the time and place of the arbitration hearing held in the school district by registered mail, return receipt requested, instead of by regular mail.

2001 – TNA

PA 01-173 (sSB 1122) made technical changes.

JM/JL: eh