Can closed-session bargaining work for you?
July 14, 2009
Oregon statute requires collective bargaining negotiations to take place in open session unless the parties mutually agree to bargain in closed executive session.
There are many questions to answer before you decide to proceed behind closed doors, such as these:
- What goals and public policy ends might be achieved or impaired by open or closed bargaining sessions?
- Will closed sessions create the impression to staff, parents and members of the public that they are being kept out of a process affecting their interests?
- Will closed sessions create an atmosphere of secrecy or misinformation?
- Will open session encourage grandstanding, pandering or other behaviors that could interfere with contract settlement?
If both parties agree to closed sessions, it is crucial that they have a common understanding of how each will communicate negotiations progress to their respective constituents. The term "closed session" infers a degree of confidentiality to some collective-bargaining participants. Don't leave to inference the question of whether or not confidentiality exists; if there is to be confidentiality, to what degree and regarding what topics?
When parties agree to closed-session negotiations, they should develop clear ground rules regarding outside communications. Districts should reserve the right to disclose any documents exchanged during negotiations that are not exempt from Oregon's public records law. Documents produced for or shared during executive session are not automatically exempted from public-records requests.
Districts should also avoid agreeing to joint communications with the union. Such agreements often create an entire subset of negotiations within the greater bargaining process. If the parties decide to release news about negotiations progress, they should each retain the right to structure those communications as they see fit.
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