Taking the unions to court in Arizona

Regular readers will recall our previous coverage of the ongoing saga of the Goldwater Institute and the investigative work they’ve done regarding public worker unions abusing taxpayers in Arizona. Whether it’s paying union officials full time salaries on the taxpayer time while doing no work for the public or trying to fire one of their own people who dares to ask where the money goes, the tales have been pretty shocking. Unfortunately, the hoped for cleansing effect of bringing these stories to the attention of the public has not come about, and now they’re taking one of the unions to court.

In September, Goldwater Institute investigative reporter Mark Flatten released an investigative report showing that Phoenix and other Arizona cities spend millions of dollars every year to pay employees to perform union work on city time. It’s called “release time.” The Goldwater Institute is taking on the city’s contract with the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA). By executing this deal with PLEA, the members of the Phoenix City Council have violated the Arizona Constitution and their duty of loyalty to the taxpayers.

The contract provides an estimated $900,000 in annual release time for police union work, including lobbying. Six officers are released from city work on a full-time basis (each receiving 160 hours of overtime at 1.5x their regular salary). PLEA also uses 35 representatives. These representatives are not given a set amount of release time. Instead, they are authorized to use an unspecified amount of release time to accompany fellow officers to grievance meetings, use of force hearings, etc.

The case is Cheatham v. Gordon, representing Phoenix taxpayers William R. Cheatham and Marcus Huey. Clint Bolick provides a succinct explanation of why the taxpayers are rightly fed up and need to seek a remedy through the courts.

Only a few years ago, Phoenix voters agreed to raise their sales tax to hire more police officers and firefighters. Would they have done so knowing that much of the revenue would wind up as a union giveaway? Moreover, PLEA itself confesses that release-time means less money for police officer salaries.

Beyond endangering public safety, the release time is an unconstitutional subsidy. The Arizona Constitution prohibits gifts to individuals or private entities by subsidy or otherwise. In 1984, the Court upheld a school district’s release-time provision because the cost was minimal and the duties imposed were significant. Here the cost is massive and the benefits are negligible.

How this continues to happen while workers – both public and private sector – continue to scramble for jobs and face layoffs is a mystery. All the states wind up crying poverty, and everyone has to deal in a realistic fashion with tightening their belts and making sure that the taxpayer gets the most bang for their scare bucks. To see those tax dollars going to provide full time employment (in some cases with massive amounts of overtime charges at time and a half rates) for union workers to conduct union business while providing nothing to the public should rightly bring people out in the streets. Perhaps the courts will understand the fundamental betrayal of the taxpayers going on here and lend a hand.