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Lawsuit Filed to Block Austin, TX from Using Taxpayer Funds to Pay Firefighters to Work for Private Labor Unions

September 7, 2016

AUSTIN – The Goldwater Institute and Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) filed a lawsuit in Travis County District Court today against the City of Austin and the Austin Firefighters Association, Local 975 challenging the City’s labor agreement with Austin Firefighters Association, Local 975. The lawsuit, Pulliam, et. al. v. City of Austin, et. al., seeks to halt the practice of “release time” also known as “association business leave,” and “union leave,” which assigns city employees to work for their labor union at taxpayer expense. The agreement violates the Texas Constitution “gift clause” provision that prohibits government from giving taxpayer funds to private entities without a public purpose. 

“Under the Texas Constitution, the government is prohibited from spending public money for purely private purposes,” said Jon Riches, Director of National Litigation and General Counsel for the Goldwater Institute. “With release time, Austin Taxpayers are required to foot the bill for the activities of a private union. This is an abuse of tax dollars and violates Texas law.”

TPPF General Counsel and Director of the Center for the American Future Robert Henneke said, “Allowing full-time public employees on the government’s payroll to work for a private union at taxpayer expense is even more egregious as the City of Austin’s proposed budget would increase taxes on all residents. All taxpayer resources should be put into services for citizens not directed to the benefit of private entities.”

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. Since that initial discovery, the Goldwater Institute has found the practice is widespread across the country, including in 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.

The Goldwater Institute’s successful lawsuit against the City of Phoenix has put an end to release time in Arizona. This is the Institute’s first legal challenge to the practice outside of Arizona and its first lawsuit in Texas. 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.     

Read more about Pulliam, et. al. v. City of Austin, et. al here.




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