Bills aimed at more transparent collective bargaining make their way to the House Floor

Author: Jason Gottesman/Tuesday, June 23, 2015/Categories: News and Views

Two Senate bills that sponsors say would bring more transparency to collective bargaining negotiations made their way out of the House State Government Committee Tuesday morning and now head to the House Floor for consideration.

Senate Bill 644 by Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) would require the Independent Fiscal Office to conduct a fiscal impact study of any collective bargaining agreement before it is officially enacted.

“Senate Bill 644 represents an ongoing effort to bring openness and transparency to state government,” Sen. Folmer said of his bill. “[It] does this by focusing on the cost, not on the details associated with the Commonwealth’s collective bargaining agreements.”

He likened the legislation to a fiscal note attached to pieces of legislation.

“I believe the taxpayers of Pennsylvania—we have a right to know in the legislature—as we are preparing our budget as we are doing this week what are costs are,” he said.

Senate Bill 645 by Sen. Pat Stefano (R-Fayette) requires collective bargaining agreements to be posted online or in a public place for 14 days before they can be implemented.

“This simple legislation…just allows the public to weigh in on some of the most important collective bargaining agreements with the public employees of the Commonwealth, just like they weigh in on grants, projects, and the work we do here in the legislature,” he said. “It’s just another way to increase transparency.”

After considerable debate, both bills were amended and sent to the House Floor along a party-line vote.

Democrats on the committee expressed uniform opposition to both bills, saying the legislation would negatively impact the right of organized labor to reach an agreement with government employers.

Minority Chairman of the committee Rep. Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia) said no other state has similar provisions in their law.

“If you want to be favorable, this is an innovative new proposal,” he said. “If you want to be somewhat skeptical, this is a radical new proposal.”

He called the legislation a “serious mistake.”

“This puts the collective bargaining process in an endless state of flux,” he said. “Labor negotiators are going to be pummeled by their constituency demanding higher wages, fewer concessions. Negotiators for the management side are going to be pummeled.”

Republican members on the committee defended the legislation as a method to bring fairness and transparency to collective bargaining.

“If the benefactors of the agreement are able to see it prior to it being enacted, why wouldn’t the people who are paying the bill be allowed to understand what the contents of that contract are prior to it being finalized,” questioned Rep. Fred Keller (R-Snyder). “All this does is transparency.”

According to Steve Miskin, spokesperson for the House Speaker and Majority Leader, while there is interest in the bills, there is no timetable yet for when they are likely to be considered by the full House.

Jeff Sheridan, spokesperson for Gov. Tom Wolf, said the governor is not taking a position until the legislative process has concluded.