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Collective Bargaining Transparency

Published:2017-11-08 Column
Collective Bargaining Transparency    Print Snohomish Times    
Collective Bargaining Transparency

By Jason Mercier
Nov 8, 2017

The Kittitas County Board of Commissioners yesterday unanimously approved a resolution to require the county's public employee contract talks to be conducted transparently (board discussion on vote starts at 34:20 of video). This action follows the successful collective bargaining transparency resolutions enacted in Lincoln County and the Pullman and Tukwila School Districts.

Contract transparency is currently the norm in several states across the country. Some states open the entire negotiation process to the public, while others include an exemption when government officials are strategizing among themselves. Once public officials meet with union negotiators, however, the public is allowed to be informed and monitor the process.

This is what occurs in Florida as described by that state's Attorney General:"The Legislature has, therefore, divided Sunshine Law policy on collective bargaining for public employees into two parts: when the public employer is meeting with its own side, it is exempt from the Sunshine Law; when the public employer is meeting with the other side, it is required to comply with the Sunshine Law.”

The Governor of Idaho recently signed into law a bipartisan bill passed unanimously by the state House and Senate to bring public employee union negotiations under the open meetings law. The lack of dissent on this reform in Idaho shows transparency for public union negotiations enjoys the broad support of both parties.

Texas also requires transparency for government collective bargaining as shown by this statute:
“Sec. 174.108. OPEN DELIBERATIONS. A deliberation relating to collective bargaining between a public employer and an association, a deliberation by a quorum of an association authorized to bargain collectively, or a deliberation by a member of a public employer authorized to bargain collectively shall be open to the public and comply with state law.”

In 2014, 70 percent of Colorado voters approved Proposition 104 to require:
“any meeting between any representative of a school district and any representative of employees, at which a collective bargaining agreement is discussed to be open to the public.”

These are just a few of the examples from across the country of government officials putting the public first by providing transparency for these important decisions.

Ideally, all public employee contract negotiations in Washington should also be made subject to the state’s Open Public Meetings Act. At a minimum, though, government officials should adopt an openness process like the one used by the City of Costa Mesa in California to keep the public informed. The policy used there is called COIN (Civic Openness in Negotiations).
Under the COIN process, all of the contract proposals and documents that are to be discussed in closed-door secret negotiations are made publicly available before and after the meetings, with fiscal analysis provided showing the potential costs.

While not full-fledged open meetings, providing access to all of the documents before the meetings better informs the public about the promises and tradeoffs being proposed with their tax dollars before an agreement is reached. This also makes clear whether one side or the other is being unreasonable in its demands, and quickly reveals whether anyone is acting in bad faith.

This form of openness works well in Costa Mesa and could be adopted by Washington state and local officials if full open meetings are not allowed.

As I wrote recently with Franklin County Auditor Matt Beaton in this Tri-City Herald op-ed:
"It is important to remember that state law says, 'the people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments [government agencies] they have created.'

The people have a right to know how public spending decisions are made. Ending collective bargaining secrecy and opening public employee union contract negotiations to the public, as other states and cities have done, is a practical and ethical way to achieve that standard."

Kudos to the Kittitas County Commissioners for recognizing this and voting unanimously to adopt this important transparency reform.

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