In Watchdog.org, I summarized a report conducted by the Competitive Enterprise Institute that exposes the practice of union release time--in which union business is conducting at taxpayer expense--in Missouri. A major finding of the report is the lack of transparency surrounding the taxpayer subsidy to government unions. "Many Missouri government employers do not even track or record the cost or the union activity performed on release time. That means that many government supervisors do not always know where their employees are or what they are doing-but still pay for them." One extreme example represents the utter lack of transparency regarding release time, "the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) tracks release time, but did everything in its power to keep the records closed to the public. Initially, the DOC concluded it did not have to disclose release time records under Missouri’s Sunshine Law. But upon learning that other Missouri public employers complied with our request, the DOC changed its tune-for a steep fee. The DOC general counsel said the agency’s only release time records were handwritten and that the estimated cost to fulfill CEI’s request would be $22,030 and require 1,941 hours to complete!" However, not every Missouri government employer exhibited such intransigence. The Parkway School District supplied the cost, hours and activity employees performed on union release time.
"Parkway School District produced release time data on two of its unions but not a third. From the information Parkway disclosed, the school district paid a portion of the Parkway National Education Association (PNEA) President’s salary. In the past three school years, the Parkway School District paid over $25,000 of the President’s salary, which was $87,300 in its lowest year during that period. The Parkway school district also paid union employees to engage partisan political activity. Two unions that represent Parkway School District employees, the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and PNEA, used the bulk of release time to attend union-organized lobbying events. CWA members spent 31 release time days attending the union organized “Lobby Day, Jefferson City,” where they lobbied legislators to vote against right-to-work and paycheck protection laws. PNEA members spent release time taking part in the National Education Association “Capitol Action Day,” a part of the union’s comprehensive lobbying strategy.Some of the political activity performed by these teachers was protesting and lobbying against right-to-work legislation. Yes, Missouri tax dollars are going toward lobbying against RTW, which would increase worker freedom and bring economic benefits to the state. Thankfully, as I conclude in my report on union release time in Missouri, there are many ways to eliminate this wasteful practice. "At a time when the demand for government services exceeds the resources available it is exactly when government should cut funding for activities that do not advance a public purpose. Under union release time, the government pays unions to lobby for higher compensation for their members, and thereby take as many resources from the taxpayers as possible. This is clearly unjust. Under Missouri’s gift clauses taxpayers are authorized to file suit challenging this unnecessary government expense. Another option is for the Missouri legislature to prohibit the practice. Taxpayers have the tools to put an end to the government’s practice of giving away the resources of the state to private entities for private benefit. It is now time to act."