Open Union Negotiations Gets Favorable Attention from Mike Rosen

A couple weeks ago I asked the leading question: Is momentum growing for open union negotiations in Colorado? It may have been wishful thinking, but just for the short term. I was so glad to see Mike Rosen take on the issue in today’s Denver Post column, even if the news he had to bear was not my first choice for an outcome:

Last Thursday, the dispute over secret negotiations came to a head at a Jeffco school board meeting. True to form, the teachers union rallied its troops, adorned in union T-shirts, to overwhelm other public attendees, a couple of whom bravely spoke in favor of openness. To no one’s surprise, the board then voted 4-1 in favor of secrecy, with [Laura] Boggs as the lone dissenter.

Seems pretty clear that most Jeffco union and district officials don’t want any of those pesky taxpaying citizens watching — watching, mind you, not participating — in negotiations that govern tax dollars and public policies. We wouldn’t smile on any other government contract being negotiated completely outside of public view. Why should government employee union contracts be any different?

My Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow made these and other points in two guest appearances on Rosen’s 850 KOA program in back-to-back weeks. You can go here and here to listen.

So in the short term, the Jeffco board shot down transparency. At least in Colorado Springs District 11, a lawsuit compelled the union to give up safeguarding “the future of children” and open one session to public observation — though the observed session didn’t cover any of the Colorado Springs Education Association’s sweet perks. Yet as a result of public pressure in these two large Colorado school districts, the issue has a renewed life.

Rosen closed his column by suggesting that perhaps state lawmakers should put an open negotiations law on their agenda:

Since a majority of funding for public-school districts in Colorado comes not from local property taxes but from the state’s coffers, the state legislature clearly has standing to join other states in passing a uniform law opening these kinds of negotiations to the light of public scrutiny.

As DeGrow wrote in his 2010 issue backgrounder “Colorado Education and Open Negotiations: Increasing Public Access to School District Bargaining,” the Colorado General Assembly nearly adopted such a measure in 2004. How different the landscape might look today had it passed.

Remember what Mike Antonucci wrote about what happens when union negotiations are opened to public view? “Unions are faced with a question they would rather not contemplate: If we are bargaining for the teachers, who are we bargaining against?” I expect Colorado public-sector unions may be faced with that question more in the near future.