Government union contract negotiations—long shrouded in secrecy behind closed-door meetings—are one step closer to openness and transparency. Today, a series of bills passed the Senate State Government Committee that will inform taxpayers about the contracts they are ultimately responsible for financing.
- SB 643, sponsored by Sen. Ryan Aument, requires public notice and open meetings when public sector collective bargaining agreements are negotiated.
- SB 644, sponsored by Sen. Mike Folmer, empowers the Independent Fiscal Office to estimate the costs of public sector union contracts prior to ratification.
- SB 645, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Stefano, requires public sector collective bargaining agreements to be posted on state, school district, or local government websites two weeks prior to signing.
In addition to enhanced transparency, these bills would protect taxpayers against the conflict of interest that exists when politicians accept government union campaign donations before engaging in secret negotiations with those same donors. Gov. Wolf, for example, accepted $2.6 million from six unions whose contracts he is negotiating or will soon be negotiating—including more than half a million dollars from the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the largest state employee union in Pennsylvania.
Coincidentally, at the same time lawmakers in the Senate are promoting open-government legislation, Gov. Wolf appears close to a one-year agreement with AFSCME. The AFSCME contract is typically the basis for other state contracts. If the AFSCME deal is applied to all union contracts expiring this year, it represents approximately $76 million in additional taxpayer costs.
Should the transparency bills be signed into law, Pennsylvania would join 11 other states that have pursued similar good-government legislation. It’s time to follow the trend and shine a light on this significant expense.