By Taylor Earl
In December, the Goldwater Institute filed a constitutional challenge to the City of Phoenix’s practice of “release time” within the police union. This practice takes six city police officers off the streets and puts them behind desks to work as full-time union managers, 35 to work as part-time union representatives, and one to work full time as a union lobbyist — all while collecting city salaries and benefits.
As surprising as it may be, the practice is widespread among local-government unions around the country. A win in court will lead to the elimination or severe curtailment of the practice across Arizona. Unions would be forced to pay for the practice through their own union dues or, at the very least, compensate taxpayers for their use of public employees.
But the legislature has a chance to go one step further to guarantee the practice is banned in its entirety. Arizona Senate Bill 1486 would prohibit municipalities from signing contracts that fund union release time in any manner. The bill, sponsored by Arizona Senator Rick Murphy, was introduced yesterday to the Arizona Senate. It requires city governments to respect the Arizona Constitution and rescues taxpayers from unknowingly funding union activity.
No doubt unions will object, likely predicting all sorts of negative consequences for government workers. But teachers’ unions were barred from using full-time release positions in 2010 with no disasters to speak of, and city employees in Scottsdale seem to function just fine without any type of union release time.
The lawsuit and legislation come at a good time. In Phoenix and other cities, unions have issued new demands to be considered in upcoming negotiations— demands that include even more release-time hours and even more public employees transferred from government jobs to union work.
Release time is a unsavory, unconstitutional give away to unions that must be stopped, whether it happens in the courts or with legislative action and a signature from the Governor.
Taylor Earl is an attorney for the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.
Goldwater Institute: Money for Nothing: Phoenix Taxpayers Foot the Bill for Union Work
Goldwater Institute: Do Police Officers Pay for Release Time?
Arizona State Legislature: SB1486