The U. S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision has cleared the way for all government employees to “just say no” to paying union dues. This means local school districts, counties and municipal governments, like the City of Kennewick, now have another reason to consider opening the door to open/observable negotiations.
The governing board of the Kennewick School District may do just that on July 11.
Now that public employees have the right to opt out of union membership and keep their jobs, those workers who remain as dues-paying members should also be allowed to see for themselves how their union leadership/negotiators are doing their jobs at the bargaining table.
Open/observable negotiations would also give the public, press and elected public officials a first-ever look at how taxpayers’ money is being talked about — who would be getting how much and why.
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Open negotiations are already in place in Lincoln and Kittitas counties, and the Pullman and Tukwila school districts in Washington state. The Kennewick City Council has discussed it several times, but not taken it to a vote.
Unions object to open/observable negotiations for reasons that can only be described as boogeymen.
They say it will trigger legal challenges. Or that it will turn the talks into grandstanding for the press. Or that it will be more costly and drawn-out.
This is all speculation. But the most ingenuous argument is the one that says nothing is broken, so why risk opening discussions to the public.
Open/observable negotiations aren’t about fixing something, but about transparency in government.
Open/observable negotiations will bring accountability to the table for all parties concerned, both union and nonunion employees, employers, taxpayers and news media. It will give everyone equal standing in a public arena. It will put sunshine on what previously were closed-door, in the shadows, discussions and it will bring both sides to the center quicker by discouraging hardline posturing.
Open/observable negotiations will not create a circus atmosphere, nor will it undermine existing working relationships between negotiators on both sides.
It will not lead to litigation if both sides adhere to existing good faith bargaining ground rules. (Note: Lincoln County commissioners have been prevented from going forward by the union’s refusal to come to the bargaining table. The Washington Public Employee Relations Board now has to decide if the union’s actions have been obstructing the negotiation process.)
And open negotiations will not force either side to confer or caucus in public. Negotiators can still strategize in private.
Those who are reticent or adamantly opposed to open/observable negotiations have nothing to fear except full disclosure of how they want the public’s money spent.
Some elected officials shy away from open/observable negotiations because they don’t want to offend unions. This can only be because those public officials covet union support at election time.
This is exactly why open negotiations is necessary. Union endorsements have no place at the bargaining table.
Open/observable negotiations is perfectly aligned with the concept, principles, and spirit of Washington’s open government laws as spelled out in the Open Public Meetings Law and Public Records Law.
It will end the practice of closed-door deals that lead to union favoritism of certain individuals seeking election to public office. It will help the public understand financial priorities, and, most importantly, it will give the people the right to know and have access to their government.