As we’ve written about previously, many public employee contracts are negotiated in private thanks to weak state laws that allow a public employer or a government employee union to unilaterally demand closed-door contract mediation for any reason. This year alone, dozens of Minnesota school districts and local teachers’ unions have negotiated teachers’ contracts out of the view of the media, taxpayers, and the general public. It is the antithesis of open government, and thankfully some legislators have taken notice.
Last week, Sen. Branden Petersen introduced SF 2846, which would require both the union and school district to agree on private mediation sessions before shutting the public out. The bill would prevent situations like we’ve seen in the Minneapolis school district, where the teachers’ union was able to move negotiations behind closed doors against the district’s will.
SF 2846 would tweak, not transform, collective bargaining negotiations in Minnesota, as the bill applies only to school districts and not other local governments. And even teachers’ contracts would still be hashed out behind closed doors as long as the union and district agree to private mediation.
But incremental progress is still progress, and given the current legislature’s fealty to Big Labor, even incremental policy improvements face long odds. Senator Petersen’s proposal is a modest but important step in the right direction.