The State of Minnesota recognizes that vital services are provided to the public by specific governmental employee groups, and therefore prohibits them from going out on strike.  These employees are considered “essential” and include firefighters, peace officers, public safety dispatchers, correctional facilities guards, confidential, and supervisory employees.  Instead of the right to strike, essential employees are afforded the opportunity to proceed to mediation and interest arbitration to resolve contract disputes over terms and conditions of employment.

Most arbitrators agree interest arbitration is supposed to reflect what the parties would have negotiated, had they been able to reach an agreement on the disputed contract terms.

Factors an interest arbitrator looks at include:

1)      What is the internal pattern? – What did other employees in the workplace receive in wages and benefits?  If all the other employees received a 2% wage increase, and this group is asking for a 4% wage increase, the group asking for 4% will have to justify why they are entitled to a higher wage increase than their fellow employees.

2)      What do external comparisons show? – I’ve blogged in the past about creating a good comparable group.  An arbitrator may look at what are other essential employees in the area received in wages and benefits.  For example, is this group of essential employees far under paid compared with other essential employees in the area, or are they average or over paid in comparison?

3)      What is the Employer’s ability to pay? – Is the Employer able to pay the increase in wages or benefits?  Public employers have an obligation to be fiscally responsible with public funds.  If a public employer can establish an inability to pay an increase in wages or benefits, it might be persuasive for an arbitrator.

4)      Is there a compelling need for a change? – If either party is interested in making a change to a benefit or to contract language, it is necessary to convince the arbitrator there is a compelling reason for the change.  Another argument is to show the arbitrator that an appropriate quid pro quo was offered at bargaining, in exchange for the requested change.

Keeping the factors an arbitrator considers in mind during negotiations and mediation, may help parties reach a contract settlement and perhaps even avoid the need for interest arbitration.