Is It Finally Time For Some Sunshine On Public Sector Collective Bargaining?


As we wrote in Monday’s post, the “Labor Negotiations Guidelines” proposed by City Manager Jim Hock are exactly the wrong way for the City to go about negotiating union contracts.  That’s because public sector collective bargaining bears little resemblance to its private sector counterpart. 

Private sector employers are profit-driven. They want to maximize their profits for the shareholders’ benefit.  One way to do that is to minimize costs – including labor costs.  Collective bargaining in the private sector, therefore, is the product of both management and labor keeping their cards close to their vest, bluffing when they can, and generally producing a level of creative tension that usually facilitates a reasonable balance between the employers’ and employees’ interests.

Public sector employers, on the other hand, are governmental bodies who tend to be viewed by their own bureaucratic managers as “non-profit” entities.  That view fosters a give-away mentality, because the bureaucrats generally have no real incentive to minimize labor costs or operate more efficiently.  To the contrary, increased raises and benefits given away to the unionized workers, and a larger workforce under management, can actually be used to justify higher raises and benefits for those “managers.”

That symbiotic coziness between public sector unions and the governmental managers is a key reason why bureaucrats like Hock would prefer to keep union negotiations hidden from public view – as we saw with the recent firefighters union contract, where lead City negotiator Chief Mike Zywanski (presumably with Hock’s approval) proposed “Ground Rules” that kept negotiations secret and effectively put a gag on the elected officials.  And, as we saw in the aftermath of those negotiations that guaranteed the union firefighters a non-merit, across-the-board raise of 6% over the next 3 years, the non-union salaried City employees were given non-merit, across-the-board raises shortly thereafter.

Another reason why negotiations are kept secret is that the public officials who are supposed to be negotiating on behalf of the taxpayers often have strong ties to the union side of the table.  In the case of Chief Z, he reportedly spent much of his career as a firefighters union member; and his non-Park Ridge taxpayer status (he resides in the Naperville area) doesn’t even provide any “taxpayer” self-interest as a counter-weight to that sense of firefighter fraternity.   

Even when we have elected officials involved in the collective bargaining, however, those officials often are proven go-along-to-get-along types (like D-64 Board president John Heyde), or outright union sympathizers (like D-64 Board member/union attorney Pat Fioretto).  No wonder Heyde and Fioretto don’t want even fellow D-64 Board members sitting in on the teachers union negotiations.

But perhaps the most significant reason why negotiations are conducted in “closed” sessions outside the public and media view is because the unions want it that way. 

Irrespective of whatever lofty mantle a particular union wraps itself in for marketing purposes – “first responders” for police and fire, “for the kids” for teachers – the last thing those unions want is for the taxpayers to see and hear, firsthand, the unions’ demands; or for those taxpayers to be exposed to a weeks/months-long stream of meeting video, news reports and press releases detailing the costs of whatever compensation and benefit packages are being negotiated. 

They’d prefer the taxpayers hear about that stuff only once, after the deal is tentatively struck and being rushed through the City Council or school board for final approval.

That’s why we’d like to see the City – and all our other local governmental bodies – adopt ordinances requiring that all union contracts be negotiated publicly, in meetings open to the public and videotaped for those who can’t attend in person.  Let the taxpayers see and hear the respective sides’ demands, offers, and negotiating “styles” so that they can judge for themselves who is being reasonable and who is not.

Prior to any such negotiation, however, each governmental body would have to make a determination – in open session, probably in the context of the budget process – how much it believes it can/should appropriate for union (and non-union) employee compensation and benefits for the coming year; and, if possible, projections for 2-3 years out.  That way, the public could weigh in on the fairness/reasonableness of those numbers even before negotiations commence.

But don’t expect this to happen anytime soon.

When Mayor Schmidt suggested the possibility of open-session bargaining at Monday night’s COW meeting, Hock called it an “unfair labor practice” (“ULP”) almost before Schmidt finished his sentence – although City Attorney “Buzz” Hill didn’t offer an opinion either way on Hock’s claim.

While we don’t claim to be experts in public employment law, we could find nothing in the Illinois statutes or in case decisions that support Hock’s position.  While labor negotiations are a permitted exception to the Illinois Open Meetings Act’s requirement of open proceedings, neither IOMA nor any other law we could find prohibits open-session negotiations.  And open session collective bargaining – under so-called “sunshine” laws – has been the rule in states such as Florida for years.

Schmidt asked Buzz to look into it and report back to the Council, so we look forward to what he will find.

We wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Hill reports that not only are open-session union negotiations permitted (and, therefore, not a ULP), but that the City’s adoption and enforcement of Hock’s misguided “guidelines” would violate IOMA while also actually providing the unions with a basis for claiming a ULP if, for example, any information about negotiations were to slip out of the “confidential” bargaining sessions Hock wants to impose!

But apparently that’s the kind of sharp thinking that gets Hock the big bucks.

To read or post comments, click on title.

9 comments so far

I almost rejected your idea of open-session bargaining out of hand. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. At the very least it would make both parties, especially the unions, more temperate in their initial demands and prevent posturing simply for bargaining position. What’s not to like?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Everything, if you’re the unions.

Like every Tea Bagger, you blame unions for problems that they haven’t caused. The only reason we have a middle class or what’s left of one in this country is unions, but you want to take away collective bargaining.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Actually, we prefer loose tea leaves and an infuser to tea bags.

And it may surprise you to know that: (a) we believe unions contributed substantially to the formation of the “middle class”; and (b) we have no problem with collective bargaining. Which is why our post advocates not for the abolition of collective bargaining but simply the opening of that process to public view. We hope our mayor and City Council (and the local school boards and Park District board) can get behind that idea in the interest of transparency and accountability – and because we would love to see whether the unions would actually sign onto the concept rather than keep hiding behind closed doors.

Letting labor negotiations happen behind closed doors is allowed because some intelligent people realized Tea Bagger dummies like you Mayor Schmidt and Alderman Knight will try to politicize everything. You have already shown you don’t know anything about government finance management. Intelligent people would not want you and your Tea Bagger puppets Mayor Schmidt and Alderman Knight within 100 miles of any part of labor management.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You may have reached a new low, Zippy – you don’t come close to making even one substantive point in your your ad hominem rant. On the other hand, we’ve learned not to expect anything in the way of substance from people who use the term “Tea Bagger,” so you didn’t really disappoint.

Define: tea bagger.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We assume you are asking that question of the commentator who actually uses that term, as we don’t use it and aren’t sure what it means.


Without taking sides here in this eternally developing argument, I believe Tea Bagger is a slang term, made by combining “Tea Party member” with “douchebag” = Teabagger.

Don’t kill the messenger – I’m just trying to define the term.

Now, continue on, please!

EDITOR’S NOTE: An appropriately stupid definition for an appropriately stupid term.

OK. What is a Tea Party Member?

EDITOR’S NOTE: This isn’t “Jeopardy.”

Ok…first of all this is a silly discussion. The reality is that just like with R’s and D’s there are people all over the place within what folks refere to as the tea party. Hell, there are a whole bunch of folks within that group who claim to own it (Americans for Prosperity, Tea Party Patriots, Freedomworks….and more).

There are also folks who are tea partiers but do not want to follow some of the main positions of their party. For example “tea baggers” who pationately hate Obamacare but don’t touch their medicare!!! It reminds me of the Catholic Church.

Because this is a silly discussion I will provide a definition from a silly source…wikipedia!!

The tea party is focused on…..”…..reduced government spending,opposition to taxation in varying degrees, reduction of the national debt and federal budget deficit, and adherence to an originalist interpretation of the United States Constitution”.

Beyond that, good luck!!!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sure glad we got that resolved, given the crucial relevancy of the definition of “Tea Party” to transparency of public sector collective bargaining.

Stupid people calling out stupid names… Whatever! The end question should really be, “Should negotiations which involve our tax dollars be made open and public?” Let everyone’s comments be on the record for tax payers to see and let them run for re-election on that record or let job performances be based on those records.

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