Ohio Constitution Prohibits Union Release Time

Yesterday, Media Trackers reported the Ohio Centerville Classroom Teachers Association membership agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement that is still waiting on approval from the school board.

Unfortunately, according to Centerville City Schools Superintendent Thomas Henderson, the union perks from the last contract will remain intact unless the school board refrains from approving the contract and negotiates a new agreement.

The most obscene union privilege in the contract is union release time, or a taxpayer subsidy to unions, which pays government workers to perform union business unrelated to their job duties while they continue to draw a government salary. Media Trackers reports:

The expired contract on file with the State Employment Relations Board gave the OEA local 12 days of “release time” per year “for the purpose of attending professional meetings, such as, the National, Ohio and Western Ohio Education Association meetings that cannot be attended after school hours.”

In addition, Centerville City Schools granted “OEA local’s president half a day per week of release time plus 5 additional ‘association days’ each year — at no cost to the union.”

Worse, union release time is a widespread practice in Ohio, according to public record requests sent out by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (the publisher of WorkplaceChoice.org). State agencies granting union release time in Ohio include the Ohio Auditor of State, a self-proclaimed independent “watchdog” agency, Bureau of Workers Compensation, Department of Insurance, Department of Transportation, Department of Education, Department of Veterans Services, Department of Environmental Protection Agency and the Development Services Agency (see WPC Ohio union release time records here).

Fortunately for taxpayers, Ohio’s constitution contains provisions that forbid such generous public expenditures. Specifically, Ohio Const. art. VIII §§ 46, also known as the “Gift Clause,” prohibits the state or municipalities from expending public funds that aid private entities. At its core, the Gift Clause’s intent is to prohibit public expenditures that do not further a public purpose.

Most recently, the Goldwater Institute used Arizona’s Gift Clause to eliminate union release time granted to the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (read more here).

In 2010, the Arizona Supreme Court had clarified the parameters of the state’s gift clause. To determine whether public funds aiding private interests violate the gift clause, courts in the state use a two-part test: 1) expenditures of public funds must promote a public purpose; and 2) the public entity must receive proportionate, quantifiable, and direct benefit for the aid given.

Thankfully, the Arizona court rule that union release time does not pass either condition of the Gift Clause test.

Clearly, union release time in Ohio serves no more of a public purpose than in Arizona. Ohio’s attorney general should step up and challenge union release time provisions in collective bargaining agreements between the government and public employee unions.