Open Negotiations and the Common Good
Contrary to the Rhode Island Labor Relations Board’s implication that contract negotiations opened to the public constitute “mere surface bargaining“, there are other states that mandate some form of open negotiations — sometimes all the way through the process. The Washington-state based Evergreen Freedom Foundation has compiled a list of different state laws regarding openness as of about a year and-a-half ago. The laws on the books fall into three basic categories…
- Straightforward requirements that contract negotiations be open to the public (for example Florida, Kansas, Minnesota, Tennessee)
- Requirements that records or recordings be kept, and made available to the public (for example, Idaho)
- Requirements that proposals offered at different stages of negotiation from both sides be made available to the public (for example, Alaska, Iowa, Ohio)
- Appropriate vehicles for regulatory action (for example, regarding minimum staffing), and
- Full-blown appropriations decisions (for example, as is being debated in East Providence, where the underlying question is whether union contracts need to be brought into compliance with the government’s budgeting process, or the results of the budgeting process need to be brought into compliance with union contracts.)
Even without settling this concern, however, union leaders and members who are serious about contracts being agreements that serve the broader public good and not just narrow organizational interests need to be willing to embrace the same level openness in contract creation that is required when making other public decisions and laws intended to advance the common good.