Magazine article Government Finance Review

Maximizing the Finance Officer's Role in Labor Negotiations

Magazine article Government Finance Review

Maximizing the Finance Officer's Role in Labor Negotiations

Article excerpt

To some extent, the government finance officer's role in labor negotiations is self-evident: The finance officer is meant to understand the fiscal impacts of the costs of labor-driven line items as they relate to both the present collective bargaining agreements and the budget projections and goals of the administration. Ideally, the finance officer is also part of a cooperative long-term financial planning process among all stakeholders within the jurisdiction. The negotiating team should use that knowledge to achieve the proper balance between labor peace and fiscal responsibility in its collective bargaining agreements.


However, such generic statements are not necessarily useful in assessing the finance officer's role in the context of his or her specific institutional structure. For instance, the term "finance officer" is broad in scope, and can be applied to an appointed budget director, a commissioner of finance, or to a comptroller. Each of these players can have vastly different perspectives on the finances of a government unit, all equally valuable. Moreover, a jurisdiction's comptroller may be appointed or elected, and if elected, may have a formalized role in such areas as fiscal policymaking and control over investments including pension funds--or the role may be limited in the charter documents to primarily audit and control. The formal and informal stake of these "finance officers" in their institutional framework can greatly affect their opportunity to contribute to the process and the effectiveness of that contribution.

This article will focus on the finance officer's self-assessment of his or her stake in the labor negotiation process, and identify some specific areas of focus for making a positive impact on that process based on this self-assessment.


The step most often forgotten in any self-assessment is, notably, the first step. A sense of familiarity with one's role in any environment tends to lead to certain assumptions about the basis for that role. This is not a weakness limited to the public sector by any means, despite a perception that it is more common there: "We do things a certain way because that's the way we do things." Engaging your staff in a review of the charter documents which dictate your office's role in government can be a refreshing experience, and one that will invariably lead to the identification of missed opportunities and misplaced energies. The idea is to literally read the enabling documents that describe your office's role. In a state or federal government context, this means starting with the constitution; at the local level, it may mean the county charter, or the town or village code, read in conjunction with the state law governing the establishment of local governments. One should also review the history of local laws the governing legislative body policy has adopted and the executive department's standard operating procedures. It may even be prudent to engage your own legal counsel, if your office has a contract budget line.


This will not be a mere academic exercise, although it is a worthy endeavor in and of itself. There is meaning in every word of these enabling provisions, so important nuances will be uncovered. Empowerments and limitations that you thought you understood may take on new meaning with a fresh look. Inconsistencies will undoubtedly be found among the enabling documents, or empowerments that have been underutilized or minimalized, either by your own practice or by political or administrative pressures within the institution.

At the very least, you will obtain a firm grasp of your office's intended leverage in certain areas. For instance, if your office is charged with developing investment policies and/or actually determining how to invest government interests in the market, you must assert yourself as a key player in labor policy as well, since you are directly responsible for preserving the long-term fiscal soundness of labor-related interests such as pension funds. …

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