The Cost of Secretly-Negotiated Government Union Contracts

Are Pennsylvanians a bottomless pit of cash? Government union leaders and Governor Wolf seem to think so. The two “re-negotiate” new labor contracts behind closed doors, and each time they come out, you owe them several billion dollars more.

The latest “negotiations” are resulting in four-year contracts for (by the time they’re finalized) over a dozen unions that will drastically increase the cost of running state government. They include a cumulative 18% salary hike, more expensive benefits, and larger healthcare contributions for public employees. According to the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO), the three largest government union contracts will cost an additional $1.15 billion over four years (2019-23). Once smaller collective bargaining agreements are included in the overall tally, the cost rises to an estimated $1.42 billion.

With reports that Governor Wolf will extend the same benefits to non-unionized state workers, the Senate Appropriations Committee also requested an IFO report to calculate that additional cost. They estimate it will be $553.1 million over the duration of the contract.

The grand total of additional employee costs comes out to nearly $2 billion. And you don’t get to know how or why this extra cost is imposed on you. All you get to know is how much the bill will be at the very end.

You’re welcome.

Chart: Cost Increase of State Employee Contracts, 2019-23

Public employees deserve just wages for a job well-done. However, we must keep in mind that state employees’ total compensation already exceeds their peers in the private sector and these latest increases exceed what the folks paying the bill are seeing themselves. The costs are adding an ever-increasing burden on the average taxpayer and it’s hard to understand how it is fair to them. Especially considering they aren’t given a clue as to how the “negotiation” came to this conclusion.  

Chart: Public v. Private Employee Compensation, 2018

It’s time to make public officials and government union leadership accountable to the people paying their salaries by instituting transparency in contract negotiations. Solutions like Senate Bill 448 (Sen. Ryan Aument) and Senate Bill 449 (Sen. Scott Martin) would expose contract negotiations and documentations to the state Sunshine Laws. Such reforms allow Pennsylvanians—including union members—to remain informed and empowered to speak up during the negotiation process.

As long as Pennsylvanians are the ones left will the bill, we should not be left in the dark.