Study Shows Need to End Secrecy in Government Union Collective Bargaining

Published February 8, 2013

Secret negotiations over employment contracts between union representatives and government officials are the norm in nearly every state in the union. This keeps taxpayers in the dark about how compensation packages are awarded and stops journalists from knowing what goes on behind closed doors.

In a report released by the Goldwater Institute, Director of Policy Development Nick Dranias, and economists Byron Schlomach and Stephen Slivinski, survey all 50 states’ transparency requirements for collective bargaining negotiations. The study finds that a mere seven states have open government laws on the books to bring these negotiations out of the shadows.

When secrecy in negotiations is combined with state laws requiring governments to engage in collective bargaining, unions can exert tremendous political pressure on government officials; and both unions and government officials are able to hide from any meaningful oversight.

Routinely Inflated Compensation

According to the report, the lack of transparency in negotiations leads to routine awarding of inflated compensation and benefits packages that far exceed typical private-sector employment terms. In 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that state and local government employees make nearly 43 percent more per hour on average in total compensation than private-sector workers.

Although elected officials vote on contracts in public, by the time taxpayers are made aware of a contract and that a vote will be taken, it is too late for substantive changes to be made. Even elected officials themselves are frequently cut out of the process.

One Phoenix, Ariz. council member recently acknowledged voting to approve labor contracts because he did not have enough time to become familiar with the issues that were negotiated before the vote.

Double Advantage for Unions

“Secrecy in collective bargaining gives unions a double political advantage,” said Dranias. “First, they get the government officials to themselves without any competing interest – like taxpayers — during the bargaining session, and then they get to apply their significant political influence when the deal is finally put up for a public vote.”

The report recommends state legislatures pass a measure requiring that collective bargaining negotiations be made subject to open meetings law, like all other government dealings. In the coming months, legislators in several states, including Arizona and Utah, will consider such legislation.

“It’s hard to argue that there is good reason for allowing unions to use closed-door negotiations to increase the tab that taxpayers pay for government workers’ salaries and benefits,” said Dranias. “It’s time to disinfect collective bargaining with the sunlight of transparency.”

Rob Kramer ([email protected]) is communications associate at the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, Ariz.

Internet Info

“Airing Out Smoke-Filled Rooms: Bringing Transparency to Public Union Collective Bargaining,” Goldwater Institute: