Rep. Ligi says taxpayers should have the opportunity to review costs and to access documents

At a time when the power and influence of public employee unions have become part of an intense national debate, Rep. Tony Ligi (R-Metairie) is advancing a bill that calls for greater transparency in collective bargaining. While the legislation is sure to draw fire from organized labor, Ligi sees strong prospects for passage on the House side. Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) had already agreed to sponsor the legislation in the upper chamber, he said.

The Public Employee Bargaining Transparency Act (HR 204) calls for collective bargaining sessions between a public employer and a labor union to fall under the Open Meetings Law. The bill also requires that any document created or presented during the sessions be made available to the public and that the details of collective bargaining agreements be posted on the Internet.

Beginning in 2009, more union members worked for the government than for the private sector (51.8 percent), a trend that continued through 2010, according to the U.S Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. This shift has occurred in tandem with an overall drop in union membership that affects mostly the private sector. After losing over 600,000 members last year, organized labor now accounts for just 11.9 percent of all employees.

The demonstrations in Wisconsin, New Jersey and Ohio aimed against reduced benefit packages for union members relate back to this fundamental shift, Brett McMahon, a representative with Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), has observed.

“It is a real disservice to the taxpayers for public officials to remain disengaged from doing everything they can to keep costs reasonable,” he said. “That’s the problem we have coming out of collective bargaining. When people get something for free, it starts to get out of hand.”

Although he has no intention of working to scuttle or short circuit the collective bargaining process, Ligi is convinced that existing arrangements do not allow for taxpayer input.

“Right now the public has no say,” Ligi argued. “They do not know what’s in the collective bargaining agreements and if you’ve got a situation where for whatever reason there is a rush to get a contract approved, it happens without the public even having seen the documents or having any input. That’s not the way we should operate. Public employee contracts involve a lot of money and we need transparency.”

Renee Baker, the Louisiana director for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), ardently supports Ligi’s bill but expects to see a real fight.

“Yes, Louisiana is a Right to Work state and that helps,” she said. “But remember we do have RINOs [Republicans in Name Only] in the House and Senate who take money from organized labor. This means they may not always vote for the right policies.”

Kevin Mooney is an investigative reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter.