Government Union Collective Bargaining Needs Sunlight

Taxpayers should have a right to know how tax dollars are spent. Unfortunately, one of state and local governments’ largest expenditures, public union contracts, mostly are agreed upon in closed-door meetings.

A majority of state laws do not allow taxpayers access to public-sector union collective bargaining sessions. Citizens are only provided insight to how much money is spent on public employees until collective bargaining agreements are finalized and taxpayers are already on the hook for the expenses.

Recently, several state legislatures have looked into changing that. Idaho passed a transparency law last legislative session, which “stops cities and labor unions from negotiating contracts in secret.”

In Pennsylvania, the State Senate has approved two bills that would improve transparency regarding public-sector collective bargaining negotiations. A much needed reform in the Keystone state, which has the “second most underfunded pension plan in the United States,” according to a new study by the National Association of State Retirement Administrators. Currently, Pennsylvania public pension system has accrued $50 million in debt, an amount unlikely to be accepted had the public been privy to public contract negotiations.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval has a bill sitting on his desk that would “require governments to publicly publish a copy of a proposed collective bargaining agreement three days before a public hearing on the agreement.”

According to the Nevada Policy Research Institute, “collective bargaining mandates adds tens of millions annually to Nevada’s cost of government.”

Again, underfunded pensions are one result when the public is not aware of what is in collective bargaining agreements until it is too late. A Competitive Enterprise Institute study finds that Neveda public pensions are underfunded by $8,590,000,000 using a fair market valuation.

Another reason it is imperative to give the public access to collective bargaining sessions is because certain state and local governments pay government union employees to attend those meetings. As seen in the public contract negotiations between the Hillsboro School District, located in Oregon, and the Hillsboro Classified United, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. On the HCU union’s website, a notification was sent out to members that explains:

This is where HCU and HSD bargain over the contract. It’s one of the most important services that your union provides. Bargaining is where wages, benefits, and workplace conditions are determined and turned into text.

If you want to observe bargaining, contact the HCU President. He can help you get a few hours of union release time to watch. HSD has asked that we notify them of any guests who plan to attend.

Union release time is the common practice of state and local governments paying public employees to conduct union activity instead of the government job they were hired to perform, an obvious waste of taxpayer funds that arises from collective bargaining negotiations.

Although taking government union collective bargaining sessions out of smoked-filled rooms and into the light of day is a good first step, taxpayers need more than access to collective bargaining. Especially since statistical analysis performed by the Goldwater Institute estimates that if all states banned government collective bargaining privileges, taxpayers would save nearly $50 billion. An easy solution would be to put collective bargaining agreements to a public vote, which would allow taxpayers to decide if some of the more costly collective bargaining provisions serve a public purpose or the interests of labor unions.