Making State Union Contracts Transparent

Member Group : Commonwealth Foundation

Senate Committee Shines Light on Government Union Deals
Transparency Bills Follow Up on 2016 Reform Signed by Wolf

April 25, 2017, HARRISBURG, Pa.—Today, the Senate State Government Committee passed three bills to make government union contracts—and the process leading up to their ratification—more transparent.

• SB 168, sponsored by Sen. Pat Stefano, would require all levels of government (including school districts) to publicize proposed collective bargaining agreements before they go into effect.

• SB 503, sponsored by Sen. Ryan Aument, would subject contract negotiations to Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act.

• SB 504, sponsored by Sen. Scott Martin, would make proposed contracts subject to the state’s Right to Know law.

These bills follow up on Act 15 of 2016, which requires pending government union contracts to undergo a fiscal analysis by the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) prior to execution. New collective bargaining contracts Gov. Wolf negotiated with 11 unions will cost taxpayers an additional $561 million over three years, according to the IFO. Prior to this law, neither lawmakers nor the public knew the true cost of these contracts.

"Good government is transparent government," commented Bob Dick, senior policy analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation. "Pennsylvanians have a right to know how government decides to spend their money, but right now the process is shrouded in secrecy. Elected officials regularly negotiate billion-dollar contracts with government union leaders—all behind closed doors. Today’s vote is a critical step to bringing government contract negotiations out of hiding and making government accountable to the people it serves."

Although Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law guarantees citizens access to many types of government records, union contracts are not available until after they are ratified. These contracts are often negotiated with unions that have donated heavily to elected officials, presenting an inherent conflict of interest. Union leaders can effectively pick the person on the other side of the bargaining table by helping elect the official with whom they will be negotiating.

In 2015, for example, Governor Wolf secretly negotiated $3.4 billion in contracts with many of the same public sector unions that gave generously to his election campaign. These included AFSCME, UFCW, and SEIU, which, combined, gave Wolf nearly $1.7 million during the 2014 election.

"Closed-door union contract negotiations are a roadblock to government transparency and accountability," Dick continued. "It’s time to open the door on secret government contract negotiations that cost taxpayers billions."

Bob Dick and other Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment. Please contact Gina Diorio at 862-703-6670 or [email protected] to schedule an interview.

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