>Gibbons: Careful What You Wish For? Open Negotiations Initiative

>The Las Vegas Sun informs us that Nevada Governor James Gibbons wants local government contract negotiations with public employees open to the public. One might offer a bit of caution.

Caution #1: It takes two to tango. What’s open for the unions would also be open for the administrators. If the Governor believes that this “openness” would automatically redound to the credit of the administrative side of the bargaining table — it’s equally possible that the publicity could backfire. Such administrative money manipulation as shuffling funds between accounts and related accounting tricks would be mercilessly exposed. Expenditures by Boards of Trustees by and for such Boards of Trustees would be wide open to scrutiny. Sometimes it’s not “if you have nothing to hide you don’t have to worry;” it might be that the public would find out how many tax dollars are expended for Board member training (which might be perfectly appropriate, but just “look bad”) or for memberships in various lobbying/advocacy groups.

Caution #2: Look Ma! I’m on camera. If public meetings between negotiators take place with an audience there’s always that unpleasant possibility of someone from either side, or both, playing to the balcony. And, while “eating the scenery” they could easily create a situation in which it’s altogether too easy to grandstand one’s way into impasse or arbitration. The latter two are to be avoided if possible, if for no other reason than they are both rather expensive.

Caution #3: Even if no scenery gets eaten, there are always other ways to turn a calm and civil bargaining session into a circus. One side, or both, could decide to play “pack the peanut gallery.” However, even if the turn out is small, there is always the potential for the actual bargaining sessions to transform into mere proposal exchanges without much discussion. This could actually lengthen the amount of time necessary to complete the agreement. The scenario would run something like this:
(a) The Board/Commission meets privately to prepare initial positions. The union meets privately to prepare initial positions. The first bargaining session is held. The proposal exchanges are made; both sides declare the other to be perfectly irrational; and, both go back into private sessions to work up the next set of proposals.
(b) The “lather, rinse, repeat” cycle continues in this fashion delayed by the fact that neither side wishes to trade any horseflesh in public or appear to take a compromise position; and so it goes — a stilted, stultifying, endless exchange of paperwork.

Thus, one of the nation’s least illuminating Governors has a proposal to protract negotiations with public employees, which could backfire on some boards and commissions, could result in codifying an adversarial relationship (especially where one had not been a problem before), and could result in the expenditure of more funds for impasse and arbitration processes. We might want to take a second thought before signing on to this one.

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