In the midst of the various celebrations taking place following Scott Walker’s victory in Tuesday’s recall election, it’s understandable if most of us missed another story which broke on the same day involving the relationship between government, taxpayers and public sector unions. This one takes place in Arizona, and long time readers will already be familiar with the efforts of the Goldwater Institute there to battle union abuse of public funds. I’ll provide some links at the bottom to our previous coverage, but the short recap goes something like this:
The City of Phoenix has been locked into some crippling contracts with various public worker unions for longer than anyone can remember. Such a sweet deal had been cut for the unions – and let’s be clear here… it’s for the unions and their officers, not the workers – that the city was laying out millions of dollars for “release time” where union officials would receive pay for doing “union work.” This included officials who were payed full time wages – including mandatory overtime – for doing zero work for the public in their supposed regular jobs, instead working full time on union activities.
The Goldwater Institute cried foul, claiming that such practices violated a clause of the state constitution which “prohibits gifts of public money to private individuals or corporations, requiring the government to prove it receives direct, tangible benefits from a subsidy it gives to a private entity.”
On Tuesday, a Superior Court Judge agreed with the complaint and put a halt to the practice while the case proceeds.
Maricopa County Superior Court Katherine Cooper ruled in favor of the Goldwater Institute Tuesday to enjoin provisions of a contract between the City of Phoenix and the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association allowing officers to perform union work on police time.
The contract grants approximately $1 million in release time dedicated to union business, including to six police officers who perform exclusively union work and collect automatic overtime. The current contract expires on June 30. A new contract continuing release time was approved last month by a 4-4-1 vote by the Phoenix City Council, with the abstaining vote counting as a yes. The injunction applies only to the current contract, so additional legal efforts will be necessary to extend the ruling to the new contract that takes effect July 1.
According to the ruling, release time constitutes a subsidy because the contract “does not obligate PLEA to perform any specific service or give anything in return for the receipt of $1 million for release time.”
This case in particular was especially tough for the Goldwater Institute to take on because it deals with the police. Nobody wants to look like they are going after our first responders, but the police are still public employees who are paid by the taxpayer and their union bosses are accountable to the public and the law. I do not for one moment begrudge hard working cops the opportunity to pick up some overtime and a little extra cash in the performance of their duties.
But the officers in their unions deserve no such sympathy from us. If they need to conduct union business as opposed to police business, they can pay for it with union money. These iron-clad contracts do nothing but rip off the taxpayers in a city which has enough trouble paying its bills as it is. This decision by the judge is a good first step, but more work will be required to make it permanent and the taxpayers deserve an alert watchdog to guard the public purse.
Previous coverage of this story: