Hear Me Out: Should Phoenix use city money to pay for union officers' activity?

PHOENIX - Each Sunday, ABC15.com debuts an Arizona issue - along with two opposing sides on the topic.
Don't worry, you always have the opportunity to make comments at the bottom of the page. Yeah, your opinion matters, too.

This week we're tackling the debate on whether or not Phoenix should use city money to pay for union officers' activity. A lawsuit put forth by the Goldwater Institute challenged the release time deal.

Taylor Earl, a staff attorney at the Goldwater Institute's Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation, says the union work includes lobbying, recruiting new members, filing grievances against the city, and generally making sure the union prospers. Earl said that in Phoenix alone, the practice costs taxpayers $4 million each year.

Joe Clure, board president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, says contrary to the Institute's claim, their lawsuit is not about saving taxpayer dollars for the simple reason that no tax dollars are at stake. Clure said the release time money is a part of the compensation given to police officers for doing their job. Clure said the lawsuit is clearly about furthering the Institute's narrow political agenda. 

Click "next page" to read the first of two positions, " Union release time a bad deal for taxpayers".


"Union release time a bad deal for taxpayers": By Taylor Earl, a staff attorney at the Goldwater Institute's Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation

Imagine if your city offered to loan city employees to McDonald's for free. One group could make hamburgers 10 hours a week, while others worked full-time on management and advertising.

What would McDonald's say to this offer?  No doubt: "I'm lovin' it." So it's not surprising that when cities across Arizona offer the same free-labor deals to public-sector unions, the unions eat it up.

Last year, a Goldwater Institute report uncovered a little-known practice called "union release time."  Under this practice, city employees are transferred from their ordinary jobs to work for unions, while still collecting full pay and benefits from the government.

The union work includes lobbying, recruiting new members, filing grievances against the city, and generally making sure the union prospers. In Phoenix alone, the practice costs taxpayers $4 million each year.

Unions have relied on this funding for decades, and until recently, nobody challenged it.  But at the end of last year, the Goldwater Institute filed a constitutional challenge to release time here in Phoenix.  Our lawsuit targeted the city's contract with the Phoenix police union because it contained the greatest amount of free labor. 

Without requiring anything in return, Phoenix gives the union six full-time police officers (with guaranteed overtime) and 35 part-time officers, with extra funding thrown in for union lobbying and recruiting.  In other words, the city transfers officers from policing the streets to protecting the union. 

Our lawsuit, brought on behalf of two Phoenix taxpayers, challenged the release time deal as a violation of the Arizona Constitution's gift clause.  The gift clause prohibits governments from giving any type of subsidy to a private association. 

And recently, the court in our case agreed release time was likely a violation of the gift clause and halted the practice for the remainder of the existing contract.  As a result of the court's ruling, the Phoenix police chief put the six full-time release time officers back to work on regular patrols.  

The union argues the court's decision was wrong because the union sometimes uses release time in a manner that indirectly benefits the city.  But the question is not whether the city has derived tangential benefit from the union's actions over the years. The question is whether the contract requires the union to use release time for the benefit of Phoenix taxpayers. The answer is it doesn't.

The union also argues it's the officers who pay for release time.  But that's precisely the problem—the officers don't pay for it.  So long as the city continues to sign the paychecks for the officers on release time, it's the taxpayers who are footing the bill for union work.     

Of course, if officers were to fund release time through their union dues, the gift clause would not be infringed.  Indeed, this arrangement would benefit officers by giving them direct financial control over how union time is used and whether it's consistently used in their favor. 

It's unclear why union management opposes this solution.  

Release time amounts to taxpayer-funding of union work, and it violates our state constitution. It's time union bosses and their elected friends learned there's no such thing as a free happy meal.

Do you agree with this opinion? Add a comment below to sound off.

Click "next page" to read the second position, "The Institute's attack on police officers is nothing new ".


"The Institute's attack on police officers is nothing new": By Joe Clure, board president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association


In 2011 the city negotiated a contract with their police officers that puts compensation for officers below the national average. Part of that compensation comes in the form of salary of course, but officers chose to subtract some of their salary and instead receive it in the form of pension and other benefits, like a uniform allowance or specialty assignment pay. The dollar value of the compensation doesn't change; just how it is received. 

Part of how that compensation for police officers is received is in the form of pay for officers who work full-time, representing them. This is called ‘release time.' It is an arrangement that has existed for 37 years of negotiated contracts and it has never cost taxpayers a single extra dime.

The officers on release time serve all 3,000 rank and file police officers in the city through the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association. The association collaborates with the city to resolve labor management disputes, provides public education campaigns on safety issues, and advocates for the protection and safety of its members. 

Four months ago, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association initiated and paid for professional testing of bullet-resistant vests in use by officers. Those tests raised serious safety concerns and led to numerous vests being replaced. The association also investigated the safety of police cruisers that led to a national investigation and the vehicle's recall.

The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association is proud of its long years of exemplary service to the frontline men and women of the Phoenix Police Department and to the city's citizens. 

Contrary to the Institute's claim, their lawsuit is not about saving taxpayer dollars for the simple reason that no tax dollars are at stake. The release time money is—as it has been for 37 years—a part of the compensation given to police officers for doing their job. The lawsuit is clearly about furthering the Institute's narrow political agenda, and the fact that police officers are the focus of this latest attack is nothing new. 

The Goldwater Institute publicly opposes the law that allows police to seize assets from drug and human-smuggling cartels and use them for law enforcement. They endorsed legislation that would have allowed for the replacement of police with private security forces. In fact, the Institute introduced approximately 58 separate pieces of legislation at the capitol this year and the legislature wisely rejected an overwhelming majority of them.
Unable to win in the court of public opinion, the Goldwater Institute is looking to sue their way to victory. Their battery of lawyers is paid for with money from sources that are hidden from the public, while the city must defend itself using the very tax dollars the Institute alleges they are trying to protect.

Do you agree with this opinion? Add a comment below to sound off.

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