The public’s business should be done in public.
Yet, government officials are often reticent to conduct contract negotiations with public employees union in open.
Allowing taxpayers to see the process unfold — every offer and counter offer — is something that is rarely done. While it is certainly legal to do so in Washington state, it’s just not done because of tradition — or, perhaps, out of concern these raw discussions would be misunderstood by taxpayers.
It’s time to rethink this closed-door approach to contract negotiations for local governments in Washington. A pending decision by the state Public Employee Relations Commission could provide the right opportunity to bring more transparency to the process.
The Yakima Herald-Republic reported the Public Employee Relations Commission is expected to determine who is at fault if an employee union refuses to bargain openly with a local government The ruling could make it more acceptable for local governments to demand to negotiation in public.
Currently, only Lincoln and Kittitas counties openly negotiate union contracts.
The Commission was asked to establish culpability for refusing to bargain openly after a complaint was filed by Teamsters Local No. 690 after Lincoln County made its bargaining sessions public.
“I know there are other counties interested that will probably open their meetings but would love to see the path blazed once,” said Jami Lund, a senior policy analyst with the Freedom Foundation, a conservative, free market think tank based in Olympia
“It’s sort of like, ‘You go first.’”
In the Lincoln County case, the unions and the employees they represent contend it isn’t fair for personnel issues to be debated in public.
Why isn’t it fair? The taxpayers are footing the bill, so shouldn’t they be allowed access to the discussions?
We certainly think so.
Lund and other advocates of a transparent negotiating process contend it will reduce the use of bullying techniques and put a stop to outrageous demands. Beyond that, it makes the people’s government more accountable to the people.
This open process seems to be working in our neighboring states of Oregon and Idaho. Lund said after talking with officials there he learned open collective bargaining mostly weeds out the extreme positions and brings both sides to the middle quicker.
“If the union comes and asks for a 21 percent raise, you’re just going to split the difference without having to explain in a closed meeting,” Lund said. “But it’s a publicly indefensible position. The fact that it could be reported or observed or members could see it, it’s less likely to happen in an open scenario.”
The opportunity to open the door to negotiations between employee unions and governments, if it becomes available this year, should be adopted by local governments.