Jersey City, New Jersey—There are two educators in Jersey City who didn’t clock into work at their school today, they clocked in at a union desk. They did it yesterday and they will do it tomorrow. In fact, they will clock in at the union desk to do work exclusively for their labor union every day this school year. But instead of receiving a salary and benefits from the union, taxpayers fund their work.
Today, the Goldwater Institute filed a lawsuit in Hudson County Superior Court on behalf of Jersey City taxpayers to stop this abusive practice called “release time.” Release time takes government workers away from the work taxpayers are paying them to do and sends them to work for their labor union, but taxpayers still fund their salary and benefits, including pensions. This arrangement costs taxpayers nearly $1.2 million over five years.
“Jersey City taxpayers are spending millions to pay two people who should be in schools preparing students for their future to sit at a union desk and do work that benefits a private organization, not children,” said Jon Riches, the director of national litigation and general counsel at the Goldwater Institute. “Fortunately, the New Jersey Constitution prohibits the government from spending taxpayer money for purely private purposes.”
The school district’s contract with the Jersey City Education Association violates a provision in the New Jersey Constitution that prohibits government from giving taxpayer funds to private entities without a public purpose.
The union is not required to account for their use of release time, and the school district is not allowed to audit the use of release time. District officials and employees using release time are not required to properly account to the District, its Board, or any other government official for how release time is used. The union president, who works full time for the union while drawing a salary and benefits from the school district, does not have to account for how he or she uses the time.
Release time is widespread across the country at city, county, state, and federal government levels. The Goldwater Institute originally discovered this illegal use of taxpayer money in 2011 and filed suit to stop the City of Phoenix from paying police officers their salary and benefits while they were working for the police union. Police officer release time was costing Phoenix taxpayers nearly $4 million each year. Release time is also included in many federal government contracts. For example, while some military veterans wait an average of 115 days to get an initial appointment with their primary care provider, the Veterans Administration spends over $40 million a year on release time for VA employees. When release time contract provisions are added up across the country, taxpayers spend over a billion dollars each year to pay government workers to clock in at the union desk, not to do the government work they were hired to do.
This is the Goldwater Institute’s third legal challenge to the practice (the first was in Arizona; the second is pending in Texas) and its first lawsuit in New Jersey. Bills to ban taxpayer-funded release time have been introduced in Maine, Michigan, Nevada, and Washington State; and other lawsuits challenging the practice have been filed in Idaho, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.