Nick Dranias

Airing Out the Smoke-filled Rooms: Bringing Transparency to Public Union Collective Bargaining

Posted on January 17, 2013 | Type: Policy Report | Authors: Nick Dranias, Byron Schlomach, Stephen Slivinski
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Secret government union collective bargaining is the law in 11 states, specifically: Alaska, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. In Arizona, at least 2.5 million Arizonans—more than 40 percent of the state’s population—live in cities and towns that keep collective bargaining with government unions secret. The secrecy imposed on those negotiations is often so all-encompassing that towns like Avondale, Chandler, and Maricopa even expressly prohibit anyone from sharing records of negotiations with elected officials and the news media.

When total secrecy in negotiations is combined with laws forcing government employers to engage in collective bargaining—often euphemistically called “meet and confer”—government unions are free to deploy maximum leverage in negotiations—consisting of political pressure and monopoly power—while hiding from any meaningful oversight. It is no wonder that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has most recently reported that state and local government employees make nearly 43 percent more per hour on average in total compensation than private sector workers. Even when controlling for similar occupations and skills, Arizona pays its employees average hourly total compensation that is nearly 20 percent more than what is paid to private sector workers.

To help prevent union strong-arming that fleeces taxpayers, we should know precisely what public union officials are demanding and what government employers are offering in any collective negotiation about employment terms and conditions. Although union groups and their political allies have opposed collective bargaining transparency as “union busting,” it is difficult to see how shining a light on the bargaining table will “bust” unions unless they have something to hide. No principled policymaker could possibly argue that there is a public benefit to the secretive use of bare-knuckled political pressure and monopoly power by unions to extract above-market compensation. Requiring total transparency in collective bargaining is simply the right thing to do to ensure public accountability. Government employees, city managers, and elected officials work for the public; and the public is entitled to know what their employees are doing on their dime.

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