by Taylor Earl
The Goldwater Institute recently filed a lawsuit challenging Phoenix’s “release time” practice that sends six city police officers to work as full-time union managers, 35 to work as part-time union representatives, and one to work as a union lobbyist. Although these employees are released from city duties to perform union duties, taxpayers continue to pay the officers’ salaries and benefits.
The city and the union say this practice doesn’t waste taxpayer money because it’s police officers who pay for the release time by foregoing higher pay and benefits in exchange for release time.
But that isn't true.
The city doesn’t consider release time a trade off for lower officer salaries – until recently the city council didn’t know release time existed. The city grants release time simply because it’s been buried in the city’s contracts with the unions since the 1970s.
And even if the city does grant release time in exchange for officers accepting lower pay, it doesn’t mean officers are funding release time. As long as the city signs the paychecks of officers doing union work, taxpayers are the ones who pay.
Officers would fare better if the city defunded release time and redirected the associated $950,000 per year to officer salaries. Then, individual officers could choose whether to keep their portion of the money or put it back into funding release time via union dues.
Of course, union bosses fear this idea — give officers direct control over the funding of release time, and they just might find that six full-time union managers and 15,000 hours of release time aren’t necessary after all.
Taylor Earl is an attorney for the Goldwater Institute's Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.
Goldwater Institute: Cheatham v. Gordon
Goldwater Institute: Money for Nothing: Phoenix Taxpayers Foot the Bill for Union Work