Secret government union collective bargaining is the law in eleven states, including Alaska, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. In Arizona, at least eight major cities keep collective bargaining with government unions in the dark. The secrecy imposed by towns like Avondale, Chandler and Maricopa even expressly prohibits any city employee from sharing records of negotiations with the news media and their own city council members.
Why does this matter? First, elected officials and the public cannot meaningfully check and balance collective bargaining negotiations when the law keeps them blind, deaf and dumb during the process. Second, when secrecy in negotiations is combined with laws forcing Arizona cities to engage in collective bargaining—called “meet and confer” in Arizona—unions can exert tremendous political pressure on government officials; and both unions and government officials are able to hide from any meaningful oversight.
That leverage has a price. 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, a study commissioned by Citizens Against Government Waste found that Arizona pays its employees nearly 20 percent more per hour on average than comparable private sector employees.
The presence of government unions and the strength of collective bargaining laws explain a large portion of the pay gap observed between state and local government employees and private sector employees. Arizona could save $550 million every year in excessive pay to public employees simply by banning government union collective bargaining. But the next best reform is to shine a light on the backroom deal making.
Arizona lawmakers will have the opportunity to do just that this legislative session. Rep. Steve Montenegro has introduced a bill to make collective bargaining negotiations subject to open meetings and public records law. This is a terrific government transparency reform. Here’s hoping he’s successful.
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Employer Costs for Employee Compensation
Citizens Against Government Waste: Public Servants or Privileged Class