Public officials are negotiating with unions in secret and ratifying far-reaching contracts without adequate public input, the Empire Center today warned in a new report, Dealing In The Dark: NY’s Secretive Government Labor Negotiations.
“Union contracts control almost every government function in New York and they’re a big part of why New Yorkers have the highest state and local tax burden,” said report author and Empire Center fellow Ken Girardin. “But these contracts get negotiated behind closed doors and people often don’t find out how they affect future costs until it’s too late. We don’t tolerate this sort of secrecy in any other type of government activity, and we shouldn’t tolerate it here.”
State law, Girardin explains, doesn’t require secrecy around union negotiations, but local governments and school districts have come to believe it does. At the same time, the law fails to give the public a chance to review contracts before they’re ratified, and doesn’t require any calculations that would show the long-term effects on costs.
That’s especially problematic, he writes, because elected officials have a serious conflict of interest when they negotiate with the same unions that support them in elections, and the public must be able to scrutinize every step of the process. The report also details recent instances in which outgoing officials used secret union negotiations to hamstring their successors by trapping them in long-term deals with unfavorable terms.
Girardin explains that transparency is essential for protecting the public interest and outlines steps state lawmakers should take to modernize the Freedom of Information Law and the Open Meetings Law. He also notes that New York is falling behind other states in protecting the public’s right to know.
The Empire Center, based in Albany, is an independent, not-for-profit, non-partisan think tank dedicated to promoting policies that can make New York a better place to live, work and raise a family.