Do you know how the current state contract negotiations are going?

June 9, 2014

No? Neither do we. Realizing that potentially hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, we believe that like other budget related decisions, these meetings should be open to the public. This is exactly what already occurs in several states.

According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, here is how several states treat collective bargaining sessions under their open public meeting laws: 

  • Georgia: “The Act does not exempt meetings concerning negotiations and collective bargaining of public employees.

  • Minnesota: “The Public Employment Labor Relations Act (PELRA) provides that ‘negotiations, mediation sessions and hearings between public employers and public employees’ are public meetings, ‘except when otherwise provided by the director [mediator].’”

  • Mississippi: “No specific exemption.”

  • Montana: “Not a basis for closing a meeting.”

  • Tennessee: “Open, except strategy sessions.”

  • Texas: “The Attorney General has held that the internal deliberations of a city’s collective bargaining team in its preliminary discussions with elected city officials are open to the public but sometimes may be closed if counsel participates. The Attorney General went on to hold that actual bargaining sessions between the city and a police officer’s association are open to the public.”

Also on point:

  • Florida: "The Legislature has, therefore, divided Sunshine Law policy on collective bargaining for public employees into two parts: when the public employer is meeting with its own side, it is exempt from the Sunshine Law; when the public employer is meeting with the other side, it is required to comply with the Sunshine Law."

  • Kansas: “Public bodies can meet in executive session to discuss conduct or status of negotiations, with or without the authorized representative who is actually doing the bargaining. Public bodies cannot have executive session under this exception when meeting with employees.”

  • Oregon: “Labor negotiations shall be conducted in open meetings unless negotiators for both sides request that negotiations be conducted in executive session.”

State/local employment contracts should not be negotiated in secret. Taxpayers are ultimately responsible for funding these agreements. They should be allowed to monitor the negotiation process and to hold government officials accountable for their actions. Open meetings will also quickly identify if one side is being unreasonable in negotiations to help the public determine who is acting in good or bad faith.

There was this proposal last session to address this but it did not receive floor action: SB 6183: Requiring public employee collective bargaining sessions to be open meetings.

Among those supporting this reform (in-part) is the nonpartisan Washington Coalition for Open Government which wrote about the bill:

Amends the Open Public Meetings Act, RCW 42.30.140, to eliminate the provision that says that 'contract negotiations' are not subject to the OPMA. Creates a separate section in the OPMA that requires contract negotiations to be open to the public, but that 'Any individual collective bargaining session may be private if both the employee organization, or its representative, and the public agency, or its representative, agree in writing to waive the open meeting requirement.'

Comments: It is difficult to fathom why the bill tries to make contract negotiations public, but then immediately eviscerates it by allowing negotiations to be made secret again by simple written agreement between the agency and the union with no opportunity for the public to object. Opening the negotiations is for the benefit of the public, not for the agency or union, and the public must be a party to any decision to close the meeting.

Recommended Action: SUPPORT opening of contract negotiations to the public; OPPOSE making it so trivially easy to close contract negotiations to the public.

Additional "details" on the state's current contract negotiations available here.

More background on the state's collective bargaining process shortcomings and the need for more transparency here.