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Media Advisory: Ruling Halts Taxpayer-Funded Union Activism

October 30, 2014

Contact: Michael Kelley

(602) 633-8985


Goldwater Institute Lawsuit Puts Police Back on Patrol, Not at Union Desk.

PHOENIX, AZ –A widespread practice taking police officers off the street and sending them to the union desk on the taxpayer dime has been halted, thanks to a Goldwater Institute lawsuit challenging the practice as unconstitutional.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper granted a preliminary injunction Tuesday against the practice of “release time” in a Phoenix labor contract with the local police union, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA). Release time is a provision in government labor contracts allowing public employees to collect taxpayer-funded salaries and benefits while being “released” to do union work, including lobbying, electioneering, and other forms of political activism.

A 2011 Goldwater Institute investigative report found that release time is prevalent in labor contracts across Arizona and America, costing local taxpayers millions annually while giving unions the ability to divert members away from their public duties to perform a range of activities not related to their jobs. The Institute chose to challenge Phoenix’s contract with PLEA because it contained the most egregious release time provisions of the city’s labor contracts.

The Institute’s legal team is arguing that release time violates the gift clause in Arizona’s state constitution because it gives public money to a private organization that doesn’t provide the public with a discernible benefit in return.

According to today’s ruling, “[release time] diverts resources away from the mission of the Phoenix Police Department, which is the safety of the community…and places public funds at the disposal of the union.”

The Court granted a virtually identical injunction against release time last summer in an earlier round of the lawsuit. At that time, six full-time release time officers were sent back to the police academy (some of them had not performed police work in over a decade). That injunction expired when a contract between the City and PLEA expired last July, so the case was amended and a new injunction requested challenging the current contract, which contains release time provisions nearly indistinguishable from the old contracts.

The Court still must rule on the lawsuit as a whole, and the case will likely be appealed to a higher court, regardless of the outcome at the trial court.

“If successful to the end, this lawsuit would establish that release time is in violation of Arizona’s state constitution, effectively stopping the practice in its tracks in all state and local labor contracts,” said Clint Bolick, lead attorney and Vice President for Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.

Nearly all 50 states contain a gift clause in their state constitutions, signaling that the lawsuit could be replicated elsewhere. The Institute’s lawsuit was recently featured in Mallory Factor’s bestselling book, Shadowbosses, as a blueprint for taxpayers to rid their states of release time.

“This is a huge victory for taxpayers,” declared Bolick. “It sends a powerful message that tax dollars should be used for public safety, not to promote the interests of a union.”

“The streets of Phoenix will be safer, now that union officials must go back to the important police work for which they were hired.”

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To schedule an interview, or for more information, please call Communications Director Michael Kelley at (602) 633-8985 or email



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