An Arizona court struck down taxpayer funding for union work on Tuesday, dealing a blow to public sector unions.
The Arizona Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA) wrongfully used taxpayer dollars to pay union representatives who had ceased to perform the duties of their government jobs in order to serve their labor representatives.
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"Release time provisions do not require that officers in the full-time release positions perform any specific duties," the court ruled. "The City’s expenditure for the release time was grossly disproportionate to what it received in return, given the lack of obligation imposed on PLEA."
The Goldwater Institute, a state-based free market think tank, brought the suit challenging the arrangement between the city of Phoenix and the PLEA, arguing that taxpayers should not be forced to pay for union services. Goldwater Institute vice president Clint Bolick called the agreement between Arizona city officials and local unions a "widespread taxpayer scam" in a release.
"Today the Arizona appeals court ruled that cities can’t spend taxpayer money and get nothing in return," he said. "Hopefully this will put an end, once and for all, to this huge and widespread taxpayer scam."
PLEA did not respond to request for comment.
The association’s deal mandated nearly 2,000 hours of release time for six police officers to perform union duties, rather than those of a police officer. Release time cost the city nearly $2 million over a two-year period, according to the ruling.
A lower court had ruled that the release time arrangement violated the state constitution because it enriched a private entity at the taxpayer expense. The appeals court upheld the ruling. Bolick said the matter extended past the constitutional questions into the realm of safety because union organizers tried to pit law enforcement against taxpayers during budget negotiations.
"Not only were taxpayers being forced to fund private labor union activity, it was activity that was purposely aimed at undermining the safety of Phoenix residents and the operations of the police department. That’s not only illegal, it’s outrageous," Bolick said in the release.
Labor watchdogs, such as Patrick Semmens of the National Right to Work Foundation, said the court decision eliminates "an outrageous giveaway to big labor that needs to be ended nationwide."
"There is absolutely no justification for having taxpayers foot the bill for union officials to conduct union business," he said. "If what the union officials are doing is worthwhile then union members will voluntarily pay dues to support those activities. Official time lets government union bosses avoid accountability from both taxpayers and rank-and-file union members."
Watchdogs challenging similar union arrangements in other states applauded the ruling. The Pennsylvania-based Fairness Center said the ruling should be mirrored in its own suit challenging existing Philadelphia law.
"This commonsense result in Arizona is something we need to see in Pennsylvania," Fairness Center general counsel David Osborne said. "Public employees should not be doing union work, and certainly shouldn’t receive public pay and pension plans. If unions need employees, they can hire their own."