By Daniel Borenstein, Staff Columnist
Posted: 07/17/2015 – 04:00:00 PM PDT

Organized labor has lined up behind legislation purporting to promote government contract transparency. It’s a sham.

The bill actually aims to keep the public in the dark about public-employee negotiations, ensuring taxpayers never learn the costs of collective bargaining agreements until they’re done deals.

Deceptively labeled the “Civic Reporting Openness in Negotiations Efficiency Act,” SB 331, by state Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, would also penalize cities, counties and special districts that require responsible analysis of their salary and benefit expenses.

“To punish local government for disclosing labor costs is an amazingly cynical statement on the role of the people in democracy,” said attorney Jon Holtzman, an employment law and labor relations expert who represents cities.

“Does labor really believe the only way to address the dramatic increase in the cost of benefits is to hide them?”

The Senate passed the bill in May; it’s now in the Assembly. To understand what’s at stake and how cynical this bill is, consider the infamous 2013 BART negotiations. After months of bargaining, transit system representatives caved and upped their financial offer by 48 percent in the final hours.

The episode was another indictment of California’s public employee collective bargaining process. Collective bargaining per se is not the problem. It’s how we go about it.

Union representatives often negotiate with the local government agency’s top administrators, who themselves can have a personal interest in the outcome. Whatever benefits the rank and file receives will eventually be at least matched for managers.

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