Valley unions pay police millions to lobby while removing officers from duty
Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper is expected to issue an opinion late next week regarding whether the city of Phoenix should temporarily suspend the practice of funding “release time” for police officers to conduct union business. Phoenix and other Arizona cities spend millions of dollars every year to pay employees to perform union work on city time. The case is Cheatham and Marcus Huey v. City of Phoenix.
The request for a preliminary injunction is part of a lawsuit brought by the Goldwater Institute (GI) against the city of Phoenix and the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association union (PLEA). Goldwater attorney Clint Bolick’s take on the unsavory and costly practice can be read here.
The GI case challenges the city’s contract with the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, which provides an estimated $900,000 in annual release time for police union work, including lobbying. The provisions take six full-time officers off the streets — giving them full pay, benefits, and overtime for union work — in addition to providing thousands of additional release-time hours for the union to dole out at its discretion. Altogether, more than 40 police officers can be released from some or all of their law-enforcement duties by the union.
The Goldwater Institute contends that beyond endangering public safety, the release time is an unconstitutional subsidy, violating the gift clause of the Arizona Constitution by using taxpayer money to fund salaries of union and labor association leaders who represent city employees. Goldwater filed the complaint in December 2011.
During the hearing Friday, Bolick pointed out that the city couldn’t quantify the direct benefits it receives for what it spends on release time for the officers who conduct union business. The gift clause requires the city to prove it receives direct, tangible benefits from money it gives to a private entity, he said. Bolick also said the city didn’t have a clear way of tracking how union officers spend their release time.
“The union has hijacked the city’s treasury to fulfill its responsibilities,” Bolick said.
Despite the pending lawsuit, earlier this month the Phoenix City Council approved a new two-year labor contract for PLEA. The contract, set to begin July 1, continues the indefensible “release time” practice.
Did you feel the pang of a sharp thumb in your eye from your council member? If not, it’s because the council aims to keep such information under wraps.