Monday, August 16, 2010

Union Arbitration = No Transparency

Most of the time, when our politicians make decisions, the process is open and transparent. That openness allows voters and residents to oppose shady or unreasonable deals. In contrast to the normal principle of transparency, most of California's government unions negotiated compensation packages behind closed doors (via arbitration). About two years ago, the California Supreme Court issued a decision (mostly) rejecting the government unions' claims to privacy protection, finally forcing the unions to disclose their generous compensation packages. Since then, most Californians have been shocked to see union workers receiving benefits far above the norm in the private sector. Consider the following scenario:

Blackwater operatives come to San Jose, call for a private meeting, and tell the Council that they have information about a possible impending attack. Blackwater then demands, in private, $2,000/yr from each resident and his or her child for the next 60 years to help the city avoid the attack. The Council, behind closed doors, agrees. Later, someone becomes upset with his increasing taxes and sues the City to figure out what is going on with the budget. Two years later, after much litigation, the state Supreme Court forces the Council to reveal the Blackwater deal to the public.

Should voters be able to revoke or modify the private deal because they may have received some benefit from Blackwater and because Blackwater employees may have relied on expected future income? Keep in mind that the the deal affects the voters' children (i.e., like government pension promises, the private deal forces our children to pay higher taxes in the future).

The union arbitration system--under which the unions received their generous pay packages--is similar to the scenario above. The pay was privately negotiated and not subject to any real checks and balances. In fact, the hypothetical scenario above is generous to the unions and their enabling city council members, because the gun-to-your-head factor mitigates the government's acquiescence. Sadly, at this time, cities and counties cannot do much legally about the private promises they've made to unions except for declaring bankruptcy.

The union arbitration system is terrible for taxpayers. The only other political issue that boils my blood more is gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is where the two major political parties carve up voting districts to avoid competition. It's like Microsoft and Google got together one day and said, "You get these areas on the West Coast, and we'll get these areas on the East Coast, and we both agree not to sell our products in each other's areas." If that actually happened, we would be outraged. Why aren't we more outraged about gerrymandering?

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