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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Goldwater Institute puts an end to union "release time" in Phoenix

This February 4, 2013 Arizona Republic article by Dustin Gardiner, Phoenix to halt all union 'release time', follows the recent court decision that ruled that union "release time" violated the Arizona Constitution's Gift Clause.  The Gift Clause states:
Neither the state, nor any county, city, town, municipality, or other subdivision of the state 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, or become a subscriber to, or a shareholder in, any company or corporation, or become a joint owner with any person, company, or corporation, except as to such ownerships as may accrue to the state by operation or provision of law or as authorized by law solely for investment of the monies in the various funds of the state.
This means that a government entity within the state of Arizona can not give financial benefits to another party if the government entity receives no benefit in return.  The Goldwater Institute had sued to stop the practice of paid "release time" by Phoenix police officers by claiming it amounted to a financial benefit to police officers and their union that provided no benefit to the pubic (i.e. a gift).  Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper ruled in the Goldwater Institute's favor, and the city of Phoenix has now banned "release time" for not only police officers but all the city's employees.

The Arizona Republic has these two editorials taking opposite sides of the issue: Union "release time" wastes taxpayer money by its Editorial Board and Goldwater Institute brands cops as robbers, again by EJ Montini.  The Editorial Board makes the more sober and compelling case if only because it talks about the effects release time has on staffing and public safety, which alone would seem to argue for an end to the practice, nevermind the financial and constitutionality concerns.  The main thrust of Mr. Montini's editorial is that the Goldwater Institute shamefully makes Phoenix police officers look greedy, even though release time is a common, openly negotiated practice.  The case was conducted in open court where the city of Phoenix and the police union had ample opportunity to show how union release time benefits Phoenix residents, but they were unable to do it.  Yet the Goldwater Institute is supposed to be ashamed about bringing the case to court and, even worse, having the audacity to win?

There are a couple points to be made here.  While Mr. Montini and other defenders of union release time are quick to point out that it is a "negotiated" benefit, they fail to discuss what was being negotiated, namely taxpayer money.  The city of Phoenix is not a for-profit company, where employees can make a legitimate claim to some portion of the profits that are the product of their labor.  Every dollar that Phoenix negotiates away is a dollar that could be returned to taxpayers or spent on something else, so every dollar has to provide some benefit to the public.  The fact that it was "negotiated," openly or not, is irrelevant if the item being negotiated provides no benefit to taxpayers.

A second point has to do with the management/union relationship.  The relationship between management and unions is inherently adversarial, otherwise there would be no need for a union in the first place.  No one should begrudge a union for trying to get as much for its members as possible; that is their job.  However, management is not required to subsidize those across the bargaining table who are inherently opposed to management's own interests.  In the case of Phoenix, the City Council, ostensibly the agents of taxpayers, has annually given away $3.7 million to groups whose financial interests are in competition with the taxpayers they are supposed to represent.   This is further complicated by the outsized role unions play in the political process to elect politicians more friendly to their interests than those of taxpayers.

Mr. Gardiner recently wrote this Arizona Republic article that reports Phoenix could see $52 million budget shortfall. While I do not know how the city of Tucson treats release time by its union employees, this February 5, 2014 Arizona Daily Star article by Darren DaRonco, $33 million deficit to lead to service cuts in Tucson, shows that Tucson is having its own budget issues.  The unions have vowed to fight the end of release time; budget deficit be damned.  I suspect that there is some fear that this case will have some resonance beyond Phoenix and Arizona, which explains some of the militancy in defending union release time.  How other courts will eventually rule is anybody's guess, but until unions can somehow conjure up an explanation as to how union release time benefits the public, fighting for this dubious practice will be an embarrassment to union members.

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