Transparency Deferred During Union Contract Negotiations

Public dollars, secrecy, and politics should never mix. Yet, it’s a disturbingly common practice in Pennsylvania as public officials negotiate costly government employee contracts with their campaign donors—behind closed doors.

Governor Wolf’s administration just reached a tentative contract deal with two of the commonwealth’s largest government unions. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME 13), representing 40,000 government workers, and the Service Employees National Union (SEIU) Local 668, which represents 19,000 service workers, both sent contract deals to members to vote upon after months of back-room negotiations.

Given AFSCME’s last contract alone cost $390 million, primarily through awarding a 12.3 percent salary increase, it’s expected this deal will heavily favor public sector unions at the expense of taxpayers.

While Pennsylvanians scored a transparency victory with Act 15 of 2016, which requires the Independent Fiscal Office to provide a cost analysis of these contracts, the negotiation process remains opaque. Unfortunately, only select government officials and union negotiators know what’s in the contract members are just now seeing. That’s a problem, considering everything they negotiate—from salaries and benefits to hours worked—is taxpayer-funded. Yet these negotiations are conducted in secret between government officials and their campaign donors.

AFSCME and SEIU donated nearly $5 million to Wolf’s campaigns. And this only accounts for direct PAC donations, not the members’ dues spent on voting guides, political communications, and get-out-the-vote efforts.

Graphic: Union PAC Contributions to Gov. Wolf

Wolf’s administration then awards these unions with lucrative contracts. During the last collection of union negotiations, this political power cycle cost taxpayers an additional $592 million over three years.

Legislators have proposed several reforms to bring transparency to the negotiation process.

  • Sen. Pat Stefano’s Senate Bill 339 would require publicly posting all contracts.
  • Reps. Matt Gabler, Tommy Sankey, and Fred Keller introduced House Bill 250 to post contracts and the estimated costs.
  • Sens. Ryan Augment’s and Scott Martin’s bills (Senate Bill 448 and 449) would subject contract negotiations to the Sunshine Act and Right-to-Know laws.

High-performing workers deserve competitive salaries. But that should not be determined through a process mired in special interest collusion. It’s time to bring all parties—union members and taxpayers alike—into the process earlier to foster greater accountability.