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Shine a Light on Backroom Union Deals

October 30, 2014

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. By statute, these states expressly require secrecy in collective bargaining.

Similarly, 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 prohibit anyone from sharing records of negotiations with elected officials and the news media. Elected officials and the public simply cannot meaningfully check and balance collective bargaining negotiations when they do not oversee them and the law keeps them and the news media blind, deaf and dumb during the process. When total secrecy in negotiations is combined with laws forcing Arizona cities to engage in collective bargaining—euphemistically called “meet and confer” ordinances—government unions are free to deploy maximum leverage in negotiations while hiding from any meaningful oversight.

That leverage has a price. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 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 state employees in Arizona make nearly 20 percent more per hour on average than their private sector counterparts.

The presence of government unions and the strength of collective bargaining laws explain a large portion of the pay gap between 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 involves shining a light on the backroom deal making.

It’s time for public labor unions to conduct their negotiations in the light of day.



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