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The Associated Press

MISSOULA (AP) — Missoula city officials are expected to offer binding arbitration to the police union Monday, in hopes of averting a strike this summer.

If the Missoula Police Association accepts the offer, it will be one of a handful of public safety organizations to have it in their contracts.

“I think you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of collective bargaining units that have interest arbitration,” said Jeff Minckler, a Missoula-based labor relations representative.

Negotiations between the union and the city have stalled for 16 months over the subject. Binding arbitration works by calling in an outside arbitrator if both sides reach an impasse in contract negotiations.

Regardless of the arbitrator’s decision, both sides are bound to the result. In the process, the city gives up its right to impose a contract, and the union sacrifices its right to strike.

City Chief Administrative Officer Janet Stevens said the city’s offer may stipulate that arbitrators come from Montana, and that the arbitrator consider the financial effect of contract decisions.

The question remains what the union is willing to give up to get binding arbitration, Stevens said. The union conducted a straw poll in mid-June, and found that 82 percent were willing to strike to win binding arbitration.

“A strike is the biggest tool a labor union has,” said Missoula Police Association President Tim Burt.

“We’re willing to give that up. I don’t think strikes should be an option for police forces.”

Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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