One would expect government employers to know where and what its employees are doing while paid by the taxpayer. Unfortunately, in Missouri, that is not the case.
In a new report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute reveals that many Missouri government employers do not track or record a subsidy granted to government unions that allows employees to perform union business during the workday while still paid their regular salary and benefits.
Public records requests made by CEI aimed to find out how much Missouri taxpayers were paying for “union release time,” a practice that allows public employees to conduct union business during work time without loss of pay. But only a small minority of Missouri government employers could provide satisfactory responses to CEI’s public records requests.
For example, the Grandview School District’s response to CEI’s public records request sums up the lack of transparency surrounding union release time, “the District does not maintain or possess any records responsive to this request. I am not aware of which agency, if any, that maintains records responsive to your request.”
While some government employers did not maintain release time records, other charged prohibitive fees to obtain release time data. The Missouri Department of Corrections initially claimed its union release time records were closed. Then upon informing the agency that other Missouri government employers found release time records were open under Missouri’s Sunshine Law, the department conceded and agreed to make the requested records available. However, the Deputy General Counsel responded that the Department of Corrections only recorded release time on handwritten slips and that the estimated cost to fulfill CEI’s request would be $22,030 and require 1,941 man-hours to complete.
A key finding from the Missouri government employers that were responsive to CEI’s requests is that much of the activity performed by government employees on release time involved lobbying and attending union conferences, an inappropriate use of public employees.
Fortunately, taxpayers have a recourse. The Missouri state constitution’s “gift clauses” already prohibit the use of public money to benefit narrow interests, such as labor unions. “The general assembly shall have no power to grant public money,” Missouri’s constitution states, “to any private person, association or corporation” with limited exceptions in instances of “public calamity” and old age assistance. Similarly, the Show-Me state constitution restricts local governments from granting “public money or thing of value to or in aid of any corporation, association or individual.” The report urges the legislature and courts to start enforcing that provision in the state constitution.