Public wants Legislature to follow open meeting law

February 20, 2014 

Billions of tax dollars are committed by government officials in private meetings with special interest groups. I’m referring to government collective bargaining sessions with union officials.

Those in the workplace representation industry have a state-granted right to impact public decisions about services, accountability and the cost of government. Seven states don’t have public employee collective bargaining, but of the states who do eleven — including progressive Oregon — conduct bargaining openly.

The Senate is considering Senate Bill 6183 which would make collective bargaining sessions subject to the Open Meetings Act.

Openness in public employee bargaining is more important than ever before.

Tens of thousands of public employees have recently become represented by unions, and an unprecedented number of public services are now affected by collective bargaining.

Does a service club want to organize a work party to spruce up a park? Do parents want their children to go to school full time without partial school days? Should Intercity Transit services be expanded or should they pay drivers more? What are the staffing levels for emergency services?

All these decisions of importance to citizens are decided in collective bargaining.

In our school system, much of what is criticized is the fruit of collective bargaining. Contracts make all the key decisions about operations, accountability and service levels. They also decide if levy spending will be for employee perks or services.

Citizens have an interest in scrutiny of policymakers who may have a conflict of interest.

Unions often spend heavily to elect those who will sit at the bargaining table. A school board elected with union funds meets privately with those union officials to decide what portion of the levy will be used for unionized employee perks. A governor who received $5.8 million dollars from union officials will direct negotiations about workloads, compensation and employee accountability.

Even if there is no conflict of interest, the public has a keen interest in understanding the issues when an impasse is reached and service disruptions are possible.

Direct observation and reporting is needed to avoid misinformation.

Finally, public bargaining sessions would offer a strong signal that the public interest should be in everyone’s mind at the bargaining table instead of just managers’ and workers’ priorities.

Lawmakers should also acknowledge the public interest by passing Senate Bill 6183.

Jami Lund is a senior education policy analyst for the Freedom Foundation, a free-market think and action tank in Olympia.

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