After an hour long and bitterly partisan debate, a Louisville Metro Council panel passed an ordinance that would exempt union contracts between the city and public workers from being subject to mandatory reports.
Financial impact statements show the total cost of the contracts between unions leaders and Metro Government over an entire negotiated deal. But council Democrats who support an amendment to the law say the disclosure of those costs would harm collective bargaining deals and requests for it are being used to undermine working families.
The bill was sponsored by Councilman David James, D-6, a former Louisville FOP president, and has the support of 14 Democratic lawmakers, local union leaders and Mayor Greg Fischer.
However, GOP lawmakers say they are concerned about knowing the full cost to the taxpayers and the overall lack of transparency the measure will create.
Mark L. Miller, director of labor management for the mayor, told the budget committee Fischer believes there is enough transparency in the process and the administration supports the legislation because it will make negotiations with the 26 unions representing Metro employees easier.
“It will ensure the flexibility that is necessary during contract negotiations to be able to do so without having any intervention, anybody looking over our shoulders, any other unions saying ‘I want what they got.’ The days of meet toos are over,” he says.
At several points during the budget committee meeting, Democrats and Republicans accussed each other of partisanship. Council Democrats say they are supporting union employees and spotlighted the policies pushed by Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who eliminated collective bargaining in the state.
But Councilman Kevin Kramer, R-11, says exempting unions will make it harder for residents and council members to monitor taxpayer dollars, adding neither council Democrats nor the mayor’s office have justified their reason for exempting unions from the law.
“Our responsibility and legislative role is oversight. It’s our responsibility to ask those very questions,” he says. “What you’re asking for in this ordinance is that you be able to come in and say ‘Metro Council I want you to take my word for it. I’m a good guy, I care about the city of Louisville (and) I’m committed to doing the right things. I’ve entered into negotiations and I’ve agreed to a contract, you don’t need to know how much it’s going to cost you, you don’t need to know where we’re going to get the money, all you need to know is we negotiated in good faith.'”
Seven years ago, the council passed legislation requiring the submission of a financial impact statement with any ordinance or resolution that spends taxpayer dollars. The original bill received bi-partisan support, adding it was important to “fully inform the community” about how public funds were spent.
But Democratic lawmakers say GOP members are asking for the statements in an attempt to discredit unions as part of the larger “War on Workers” in other parts of the country.
“What is the real reason? What is the bottom line? Basically, I think they want to weaken unions and collective bargaining. It’s on television, several state have done it,” says Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, D-3. “Most of the Republicans are the folk, the party that want this to happen. I won’t vote for a financial impact statement. I don’t think it’s needed.”
At least twice, Councilman Jerry Miller, R-19, has requested the disclosure statements for union contracts negotiated by the mayor’s office. He says he is not trying to privatize any city services or bust a union, but city lawmakers are obligated to tally the full cost of the deals and taxpayers have a right to know as well.
“We’ve asked instead for compliance to an ordinance that was passed in 2004 and apparently that wasn’t acceptable because apparently there’s some need for secrecy,” he says. “And when you say flexibility without people looking over their shoulders, that would be the taxpayers looking over your shoulder.”
The panel passed the ordinance by a 8-4 vote along partisan lines. Lawmakers will debate the measure at the next full council meeting on October 13th.