06.15.2011 0

Union Demands in Collective Bargaining Agreements Should be Opened to Taxpayer Scrutiny

By Kevin Mooney — One way to push back against the power and influence of public employee unions is to open up collective bargaining agreements to taxpayer scrutiny. The success Republican governors have had in Wisconsin, New Jersey and Ohio in cementing financial reform over the opposition of unionized government workers is suggestive of a shift in the political terrain that should be further exploited.

As the private workforce is forced to absorb the full brunt of the financial fallout, the reality of a separate class of workers who are insulated from recessionary pressures has not been lost on the voting public. Rep. Tony Ligi, a Republican representative in Louisiana, has come forward with a proposal that could give taxpayers a seat at the table when it comes time for unions and government officials to negotiate contracts. The idea has attracted national attention and could help to advance reforms that union bosses are sure to oppose.

Ligi’s “Public Employee Bargaining Transparency Act” would place collective bargaining sessions between state employers and labor unions under open meetings law.  Any document created or presented during the sessions would be available to the public and the details attached to the collective bargaining agreements posted on the Internet. Louisiana’s  House and Government Affairs Committee voted 8-7 to “involuntarily defer” (terminate)  the legislation earlier this month when Ligi lost two of his own Republicans. But the legislation is back in the form of an amendment and could pass before the current legislative session ends.

Here’s why Ligi’s approach is so important.

Beginning in 2009, for the first time, more union members worked for government than for the private sector, a shift that occurred even as overall union membership was falling. Unions lost over 612,000 members in 2010, most of them in private sector unions. 7.6 million government workers belonged to a union in 2010, while only 7.1 million private sector workers belonged to a union. Only 11.9 percent of all wage and salary workers, public and private, are union members, and the percentage of union members in the private sector is a mere 6.9 percent.

Other states have moved to bring government employee transparency acts into law, but the efforts have been limited until now and should be expanded.

A 2007 analysis by the Washington state-based Evergreen Freedom Foundation found that 11 states “allow the public some form of access to public sector collective bargaining sessions. Six of the 11 states guarantee public access to all negotiation meetings between government agencies and public employee union representatives:

• Florida

• Kansas

• Minnesota

• Montana

• Tennessee

• Texas

In Alaska, Idaho and Ohio, some or all minutes and recorded documents from negotiation sessions are explicitly available to public request. In Iowa (as in Colorado Springs), only the meeting at which “initial bargaining sessions” are presented is held before the public.

Oregon requires public sector labor negotiations to be open “unless negotiators for both sides request that negotiations be conducted in executive session.”

The Oregon exception gives too much latitude to inside interests to close the bargaining door. Seven of the eight Colorado school district bargaining agreements that declare open negotiations to be the default setting have similar clauses allowing the two parties to keep the public out. By all appearances, they do just that.

Ligi has the right approach in Louisiana, one that House and Senate Republicans should eye.

Kevin Mooney is a Contributing Editor at NetRightDaily.com You can follow him on Twitter at @KevinMooneyDC.

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