Bills Shining Light on Secret Contract Talks Advance in Senate
Openness Sought in Closed-Door Negotiations Costing Billions
Today, the Senate State Government Committee passed a collection of bills aimed at enhancing transparency in government union contract negotiations. Senate Bill 643, sponsored by Sen. Ryan Aument, Senate Bill 644, sponsored by Sen. Mike Folmer, and Senate Bill 645, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Stefano, were all advanced out of committee.
Currently, the collective bargaining process with public sector unions happens behind closed doors, meaning taxpayers could be handed a bill for as much as $3 billion without knowing what they’re paying for. It’s also troubling that the state budget is being hammered out without proper costs estimates on such large expenditures.
“These bills follow through on Gov. Wolf’s rhetorical commitment to openness, transparency, and a ‘government that works’,” commented Nathan Benefield, vice president of policy analysis for the Commonwealth Foundation. “If they become law, the public will finally see details and have input on contracts before they’re handed a bill for millions or even billions and asked to pay up.”
Just this week, reports revealed Gov. Wolf's plan to extend the state’s contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) for another year. This contract forms the basis for all others.
“Just this one-year increase, if applied to all union contracts expiring this year, represents approximately $76 million in additional taxpayer costs,” noted Benefield.
- SB 643 requires public notice and open meetings when public sector collective bargaining agreements are negotiated.
- SB 644 empowers the Independent Fiscal Office to provide the public with cost estimates on state public sector union contracts prior to ratification.
- SB 645 requires public sector collective bargaining agreements to be posted on state, school district, or local government websites two weeks prior to signing.
“These bills would also help alleviate perceived conflicts of interest that occur when politicians accept government union campaign donations then negotiate in secret with those same political donors,” said Benefield. “Gov. Wolf is a great example: He accepted $2.6 million from six unions whose contracts he is negotiating or will soon be negotiating, including more than half a million from AFSCME.”
“Eleven states have already taken measures similar to these,” concluded Benefield. “We applaud the Senate for standing up for those left out of this process—the public.”
Read Commonwealth Foundation’s research on collective bargaining transparency for more details.
Nathan Benefield is available for comment today. Please contact me at 717-671-1901 to schedule an interview.