Republicans on a House panel advanced two bills Tuesday that would require proposed contract agreements for public employees and an analysis of their cost to be made public before they are approved by the employer and employee unions.
Members of the House State Government Committee voted along party lines to send the bills to the full House floor after about two hours of discussion. The Senate passed similar versions of the bills along party lines last month.
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Democrats charged that the bills are anti-union measures that would disrupt the collective bargaining process and may violate the state Right to Know Law.
The bills are "quite simply an attack on organized labor," said Rep. Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia.
GOP backers said the bills promote transparency by giving citizens access to the same information as union members who will vote on whether to accept proposed contracts that dictate their wages and benefits.
"I don't like to go to a restaurant that doesn't have prices on the menu because I don't know what I'm getting into," said Rep. Judy Ward, R-Blair.
"You are either pro-taxpayer or you're anti-taxpayer," declared Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Schuylkill.
A bill sponsored by Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, would require the state Independent Fiscal Office to prepare a cost analysis of proposed collective bargaining agreements, including wages, benefits and pensions, which is not currently done. The other bill, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Stefano, R-Fayette, would require a statement describing the terms and estimated costs of an agreement to be posted online for two weeks before the agreement can be signed.
Democrats noted that the bills do not empower citizens to approve or reject collective bargaining agreements because that is up to the employees whose unions negotiated the pacts. If voters think public employees are overpaid, they can oust their elected bosses when they come up for re-election, they said.
Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Luzerne, compared collective bargaining to the legislative process, pointing out that party caucus meetings and budget negotiations are routinely closed to outsiders.
"It's complex. Things are said and then they're worked out," Pashinski said.
Rep. Pamela DeLissio, D-Philadelphia, said she found it "curious" that Republicans did not advocate such changes during the previous four years, when GOP Gov. Tom Corbett oversaw negotiations with unions representing tens of thousands of state employees.
Democrat Tom Wolf was sworn in as governor in January.