Kansas bill would open government employee collective bargaining to public

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A bill that would make all public employees’ union negotiations open to the public generated support along with a few doubts at its first hearing Tuesday.

Supporters say House Bill 2325, called the Public Employee Bargaining Transparency Act, would increase openness. But some state employee organizations say it would harm negotiations.

Collective bargaining negotiations between local governments and agencies and their employees would be open to the public and would require public notice at least 24 hours beforehand.

Documents presented by the public employer during collective bargaining would be available to the public through records requests.

“We think this level of transparency in this whole process is a good thing,” said Linda Ochs of the Kansas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, adding she thought it would make negotiations more civil. “We would welcome the public in to observe and to have some kind of input of what the real working conditions are.”

Rep. Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park, asked whether this would lead either the employer or the union to try to “fill the bleachers up” with their supporters. Ochs said it was possible.

Rebecca Proctor of the Kansas Organization of State Employees said she doubted opening collective bargaining to the public would heavily influence negotiations.

“We are imagining a problem that doesn’t exist if we think suddenly there’s going to be all this massive turnout of people with an interest in negotiations,” Proctor said.

The bill mirrors a model created by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group known as ALEC.

“If anybody had told me two months ago I would be in front of you speaking in favor of an ALEC-model bill, I would have told them they were nuts,” Proctor told the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee.

The beginning of the bill notes that “taxpayers deserve to observe, monitor and even participate in the processes by which public contracts are negotiated.”

Multiple lawmakers, including Rep. Annie Tietze, D-Topeka, questioned what taxpayer participation would look like.

Rep. Kristey Williams, R-Augusta, suggested that “participation” should be struck from the bill.

“If the intent of the bill is transparency and to monitor, participation doesn’t necessarily need to be part of it,” she said.

No one testified against the bill Tuesday. But several groups submitted written opposition.

Kansas State Troopers Association president Mitch Mellick wrote that it would have “a chilling effect on the free flow of ideas between the parties at the table.”