In September, my colleague Mark Flatten released an investigative report showing that Phoenix and other Arizona cities spend millions of dollars every year to pay employees to perform union work on city time. Less than three months later, we are going to court on behalf of Phoenix taxpayers to put an end to the practice of union “release time.”
Our case takes on the city’s contract with the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA), which provides an estimated $900,000 in annual release time for police union work, including lobbying. The provisions take six full-time officers off the streets – giving them full pay, benefits, and overtime for union work – in addition to providing thousands of additional release-time hours for the union to dole out at its discretion. Altogether, more than 40 police officers can be released from some or all of their law-enforcement duties by the union.
Only a few years ago, Phoenix voters agreed to raise their sales tax to hire more police officers and firefighters. Would they have done so knowing that much of the revenue would wind up as a union giveaway? Moreover, PLEA itself confesses that release-time means less money for police officer salaries.
Beyond endangering public safety, the release time is an unconstitutional subsidy. The Arizona Constitution prohibits gifts to individuals or private entities by subsidy or otherwise. In 1984, the Court upheld a school district’s release-time provision because the cost was minimal and the duties imposed were significant. Here the cost is massive and the benefits are negligible.
With cities and their taxpayers struggling in a tough economy, release time is an obvious place to save money. Union members should pay the costs of union activities — if they desire them. Passing those costs along to taxpayers is an illegal charade that should quickly end.
Clint Bolick is director of the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.
Goldwater Institute: Cheatham v. Gordon
Goldwater Institute: Money for Nothing: Phoenix taxpayers foot the bill for union work
Goldwater Institute: Turken v. Gordon (CityNorth subsidy case)
Arizona Supreme Court: Wistuber v. Paradise Valley School Dist.