In what may serve as a fitting followup to our story about Chicago union bosses bilking the public, Mark Flatten of the Goldwater Institute has concluded an eye opening piece of investigative journalism in Phoenix. And in this case, fleecing may be too mild of a word. Here we find yet another case of union contracts reaching into the organizational structure of public employees and finding… cash! It comes under the benign sounding description of “release time.”

Phoenix taxpayers spend millions of dollars to pay full salary and benefits for city employees to work exclusively for labor unions, a Goldwater Institute investigation found.

Collective bargaining agreements with seven labor organizations require the city to pay union officers and provide members with thousands of additional hours to conduct union business instead of doing their government jobs.

The total cost to Phoenix taxpayers is about $3.7 million per year, based on payroll records supplied by the city. In all, more than 73,000 hours of annual release time for city workers to conduct union business at taxpayers’ expense are permitted in the agreements.

The top officials in all of the unions have regular jobs with the city. But buried in the labor agreements are a series of provisions for those employees to be released from their regular duties to perform union work.

So how much “release time” are we talking? As Flatten discovered, top level union bosses are authorized 2,080 hours per year. For those who left their calculators at home today, that works out to 52 weeks at 40 hours per week. In other words, they are being paid a full time salary out of the public coffers without ever having to put in a single day of work for the city.

Going back quite a few years, I can recall an arrangement between a private employer and the IBEW where one employee (the shop steward) would be allotted an hour or two per week to make calls, drive over to the union office, get forms filled out, etc. with the rest of his time being spent on his normal job as an electrician. It was a small detail in the union agreement and nobody got terribly upset about it.

But the situation in Phoenix (and God only knows how many more places around the nation) is an example of something ordinary being taken to its ridiculous extreme. The unions take in plenty of money. If they weren’t flushing so much of it into political campaigns, they might be able to pay the salaries of their bosses rather than having cash strapped municipalities handing out money for nothing to fund the union’s operations.