Phoenix City Council Disregards Union Release Time Ruling

In a prior post, I discussed how the Goldwater Institute has resurrected the constitutional amendment, known as the “Gift Clause,” that restricts state and local government spending to expenditures only serving public purposes.

On January 29, 2014, the Goldwater Institute won a lawsuit, which challenged the union release time provision in the collective bargaining agreement between the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA) and the City of Phoenix as illegal under the Gift Clause.

Union release time is the practice where government employees are given paid time off to exclusively perform union activities unrelated to their civic duties, in this case public safety.

Thankfully, Maricopa Superior County Court Judge Katherine Cooper’s interpretation of the Gift Clause made it clear that union release time “does not serve a public purpose” and “diverts officers from performing police work.”

Judge Cooper issued an injunction that prohibited the City of Phoenix from negotiating a new contract including illegal release time, and indicated that the law applies to other city contracts.

Judge Cooper’s ruling was straightforward that union release time does not serve a public purpose and violates the state’s constitution, but government unions do not give up their special privileges without a fight.

As an editorial in notes since Judge Cooper’s decision:

Over the past two weeks, city unions and staff have negotiated feverishly to construct new labor agreements that give the appearance of complying with the judge’s order while giving back few to none of the benefits that pay union officials to conduct union business.


The result? An apparent triumph of obfuscation and sleight-of-hand legal trickery that results in municipal unions continuing to lobby and campaign on the public dime. The dimes simply come from a different pot of public cash.

Unfortunately, today, according to

The Phoenix City Council is set to approve an agreement on Wednesday with two labor groups that will allow city employees to continue doing some union work while on the city’s clock. This comes after a court decision last month said the practice violated the state constitution.

The new city contracts with the PLEA and government construction unions allow union release time for “facilitat(ing) communications between employees and management.” And to “communicate new programs and/or policy changes to the broader City workforce.” And “assist bargaining unit members with understanding and coordination of benefits.”

Regrettably, government conferring benefit to special interests, either unions or corporations, is a longstanding scourge on the health of our public finances. And the Phoenix City Council has made it abundantly clear that they will not be the agent of change in reforming the current practice of government picking special interests as winners and taxpayers as losers.