The huge last-minute deal-sweeteners in the BART negotiations place in sharp relief the critical need to reform the collective bargaining process. Not just for BART, for all California public agencies.
We doubt unions will stand for meaningful statewide change. And most lawmakers in Sacramento are more fearful of, and beholden to, organized labor than voters who put them in office.
But the Orange County city of Costa Mesa has taken meaningful steps to daylight its bargaining and provide for public input. The City Council has demonstrated that elected officials who sincerely want to fix the process have the tools to do so.
To understand what they've done, consider how the negotiation process typically works.
Union representatives usually bargain with the agency's attorneys and/or top administrators, who themselves often have a personal financial interest in the outcome. Whatever benefits the rank and file receives will eventually be at least matched for managers.
The elected representatives usually receive updates during closed sessions, although they often don't understand the sketchy information. Labor and management eventually strike a deal at the bargaining table; the union members hold a ratification vote; and then the elected board gives its official blessing, which is just a formality.
Usually, only then does the public learn the details. That's right: The people paying the bill are cut out of the process.
That might be OK if we could trust our elected representatives to do their jobs. In fact, they often don't understand the legal and financial implications, instead relying on financially self-interested staff members to digest the agreements for them. And many of the elected officials, like state legislators, are more interested in pleasing labor leaders than constituents.
That's why so many local agencies are spending beyond their means and have racked up huge debts that future generations will be paying off decades from now.
Which brings us to the Costa Mesa ordinance, passed by the City Council last year. Under their rules, every offer and counter-offer is publicly released in a timely manner on the city's website along with an analysis by an independent financial expert.
Residents are afforded opportunities at council meetings to comment while the process is going on. And once a deal is struck, it must be put out for public review and comment for at least two council meetings before the elected officials act on it.
Every local agency should adopt similar rules. If you're tired of business as usual, as we are, call your local officials and demand change.