During my tenure on the City Council, I have viewed the labor negotiation process between city staff and labor representatives, who meet behind closed doors, as simply maddening. Due to the closed door nature of the meetings, it is clear that not enough information is shared with the public, employees, retirees and council members.
Although the City does a good job posting documents on its website regarding proposals and correspondence from both sides, I believe many others would rather see the interaction of union officials and city staff in real time. Thus, on Wednesday, I am asking the Rules Committee to support my recommendation to have the city and unions talk about this issue with the hope that both parties will agree to move forward and allow these meetings to be public.
The current process contributes to misinformation, which then results in ill will and hurt feelings all around. Why continue with the same process that drives people nuts? Public negotiations would open up the process so that we could avoid posturing, brinkmanship and emotional pain. This would help restore trust for those who have become disillusioned.
Last year, the City Attorney union (ALP) allowed councilmembers and the public the opportunity to attend their negotiations. As a result, I attended all but one of the numerous public negotiation meetings involving this union, and I was the only councilmember to do so. After listening to both sides, I could not disagree with many points raised by the union. Attending these meetings allowed me to receive unfiltered information.
I believe open negotiations would do a lot to help the low public approval rating of unions. It would allow others to see what I saw while attending the attorney union negotiations. The model used by ALP in my view was a good one.
I have high respect for the City of San Jose labor relations team, but I still desire a more open process to actually end labor conflict(s). This would not affect the mediation process, which is a confidential proceeding. However, mediation is just a fraction of the entire labor negotiation process.
The public already spoke once in November 2010 by voting for arbitration to be held as public meetings. This would simply be an extension of that desire for a visible process. Ideally, it is done by mutual consent, but if not we should allow the public to decide in a future election.