08 April 2016

Bill 29 didn't go far enough: public sector unions #nlpoli

The teachers' union doesn't want the public to know the names of public servants in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The news late on Thursday is that NAPE - the province's largest public sector union  - and the nurses' union are thinking about joining the fight against the public's right to know who works for the public service and what they earn.

The teachers' union is going to court to try and block disclosure of the names of public servants in response to a request from the Telegram's James McLeod for a list of public service positions in which the person holding the job makes more than $100,000 a year.

McLeod is compiling the list because both the former administration and the current one have committed to publishing one but haven't done so yet.  Several other provinces publish similar lists of public employees who make more than $100,000 a year.

The teachers' union says it's okay to have the position title and income but we can't have the name of the person holding the job, even though that information is readily available under access laws in every province and the federal government and it's been legal to obtain in this province for 35 years. Neither the teachers' union nor any other public sector union has raised this as an issue in the 35 years since the first provincial freedom of information law passed the House of Assembly in 1981.

Doesn't make sense, right?

Of course, it doesn't.  At least, it makes no sense if you look at it from the public interest.

It only makes some sense if you understand that these folks complaining about public disclosure aren't concerned about the public interest at all on any level.  They are concerned only about their own interest.   Unions who have members who will turn up on the lists are defending positions every bit as as private and self-interested, in other words, as the people the unions have been quick to attack for running public-private partnerships.  The hypocrisy is staggering but, sadly, not surprising.

None of the folks criticising the public disclosure have offered a solid reason why the information shouldn't be public.  Most of what they've claimed are undifferentiated fears of what unnamed people might theoretically do with the information.  They might... you know... gossip.  or worse,  the complainers have just offered the view that adding the names is unnecessary or serves no "journalistic" purpose.

What's most striking about these complainers is not the fact they offer no substantive argument, nor even that they don't feel the need to offer an mature, coherent, intelligent reason for their position.  It's the intensity of their feelings, of their unfounded fear.

Many of the people making big money are professionals:  teachers, lawyers, judges, university professors, nurses and doctors. We all know they make higher salaries than the average. They went to school for a long while to learn their business and they work pretty hard.

In other instances, like say a lineman working for Nalcor,  their pay reflects the hard nature of the work they do.  Master mariners make good money.  The job they do takes skill and carries a lot of responsibility.  As for the rest, presumably they are well qualified for the jobs they have, too. teachers, for example, are paid based on their educational qualifications, responsibilities, and years of service.  There's a correlation between their merits and their compensation. For all these folks, the pay and other benefits they get were set by government, not them, and should be enough to compensate them for the work they do on behalf of the public.

Yet they act like they are ashamed of something or like they should be ashamed of something.  If these folks and their unions are indeed feeling a wee bit guilty then maybe we ought to do more than just publish a sunshine list. Maybe there is a bigger problem here yet to be discovered.

The last time someone tried to turn back the clock on the public's right to know we got Bill 29.  As it stands right now,  the province's public sector unions want to take us back to the time before the first freedom of information law.   Since they haven't offered a single good reason for their agitation, you really have to wonder what's driving their anxiety.