Public Union Bargaining Premises

Larry Price
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Wednesday - March 09, 2011
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Two premises are central to arguments here and on the Mainland regarding public union bargaining rights.

The first is that unionization and collective bargaining in the public sector represent one of the most important developments in labor relations since the post-Wagner Act period of the 1930s and 1940. The significance of this development is derived both from the magnitude and success of organizing efforts in the public sector, and from the major impact of these efforts on the management of governmental affairs and on public employee at all levels of government - federal, state and local. The second premise is that three types of rights exist in the collective bargaining process.

The first right is that participants be allowed to engage in free collective negotiations without external exposure of, or interference with, what might be considered sensitive interpersonal communications in the bargaining process.

The second right involves situations in which the executive function is administered from the perspective of narrow self-interest rather than from that of general public interest.

The third right is that of the media to present, as an exercise of their constitutional privileges, those aspects of the collective bargaining story that they deem to be newsworthy. Clearly, citizens have a basic right to know how their tax dollars are being spent. Moreover, the wide dissemination of information about all public expenditures has a deterrent effect on possible misappropriation of public funds or conflicts of interest.

The success of collective bargaining depends largely on the privacy and insulation of labor and management, whereas the social effectiveness of political democracy exists only when citizens know the issues and have substantial means to influence decisions that are related to their needs.

In exercising their right to inform the citizenry about collective bargaining in the public sector of employment, the media has contributed to the incompatibility of pragmatic benefits associated with the right of privacy in collective bargaining and the right of the public to know the facts about what is concurring in the decision-making process of collective bargaining.

So what? Many services of government are deemed monopolistic, are mandated by law and are supported by revenue derived from taxation. Consumers cannot refuse to buy these services or lawfully cannot refuse to pay taxes. It is apparent that the legal and political pressures present in collective bargaining in public employment are such that the opportunity for resolution of conflict between labor and management may be greater than it is in the private sector. And because of so many laws governing public-sector collective bargaining, all we can hope for is a speedy resolution in the legal system.

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