D. Dowd Muska


Another Loss for ‘Organized’ Bureaucrats

June 21, 2012

Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be government-union flunkies.

A ruling by an Arizona judge could portend a radical change in “public” employment: Thousands of bureaucrats might be forced to stop working for their union, and start … doing their jobs.

The issue is “release time” -- essentially, playing hooky from a government position in order to engage in union affairs. The subsidized benefit is aggressively pushed by labor bosses, and feckless local- and state-government negotiators often cave.

Last year, the Goldwater Institute, probably the nation’s finest state-based, free-market think tank, filed suit on behalf of two fed-up Phoenix taxpayers. Under the current, two-year memorandum of understanding between with city and the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA), six officers can devote themselves to the union’s business, but in the words of Institute attorneys, “continue to receive full pay and benefits from the City as if they were continuing to perform their standard police duties.” In addition, 35 cops are allowed to be part-time union reps, a “bank” of 3,166 hours is available for any employee to work for the union, and 1,000 hours are granted -- explicitly! -- for lobbying.

Few release-time arrangements are so specific -- or so generous. Here’s the clause for the clerical-secretarial “bargaining unit” in Plymouth, Massachusetts: “Two union officers may, when determined to be necessary by the Union and the Town[,] conduct Union business during working hours with no loss of pay with specific permission of the Department Head, Town Manager, or his/her designee. Such permission shall not be unreasonably denied.”

The top cop in Kern County, California is permitted “up to one day of release time per week for Union business,” and any “employee holding the Union office of director may be allowed reasonable use of County time to attend official Union Board meetings, if the meetings occur during their normal work hours. A request by an employee holding a Union office or Board position to use County time to attend an official Board meeting shall not be unreasonably denied. The requirement to backfill overtime is not generally a reasonable basis to deny a request.”

Connecticut’s contract with state-level administrative educrats grants a “bank of up to two hundred seventy-five (275) hours for each year … for Steward Training, Union Conventions or Union Business, and new employee orientation. When this bank of hours is depleted, additional time may be granted by the employer for union business. … Up to ten (10) percent of the annual hours may be carried over into a succeeding contract year but all leave excesses shall expire on the final date of this Agreement.”

The Goldwater Institute calculated that since the “approximate financial value of the average salary and benefits package for Phoenix police officers eligible to use release time hours is at least $100,000 per year,” then “the approximate combined total financial value of the benefits granted” to the PLEA is $1.8 million. William R. Cheatham and Marcus Huey, two gutsy taxpayers, stepped forward to serve as plaintiffs in a lawsuit. Release time, their complaint alleged, was impermissible under Arizona’s constitution.

In the 19th century, dozens of states launched disastrous corporate-welfare schemes. Back then, “economic development” meant shoveling tax revenue at infrastructure projects, including railroad lines and canals. The investments flopped with monotonous regularity, and as a result, most states rushed to adopt bans on direct giveaways. Arizona’s constitution, in language similar to Montana’s, decrees that neither The Grand Canyon State nor any subdivision “shall ever give or loan its credit in the aid of, or make any donation or grant, by subsidy or otherwise, to any individual, association, or corporation.”

Earlier this month, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper agreed that Phoenix’s release-time perk was constitutional violation. Ruling that union “activities promote … private interests … and, as a result, do not constitute public purposes,” she granted a preliminary injunction. For now at least, the citizens of Phoenix aren’t footing the bill for the PLEA’s activities.

If release time is unconstitutional in Arizona, it should be found verboten elsewhere. And it probably will -- with conservative/libertarian public-interest law firms growing in every corner of the country, attorneys can use the Goldwater Institute’s success as a template to launch assaults.

Countless cops, firefighters, prison guards, teachers, guidance counselors, librarians, professors, caseworkers, and regulators “serve the public” by attending union conferences, indoctrinating new hires, leading loony-left demonstrations, penning agitprop, and manning get-out-the-vote drives on election day.

Nice “work,” if you can get it. But it might not be around much longer.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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