Phoenix Government Unions Look for More Money for Nothing

Recently, the Goldwater Institute filed suit against the city of Phoenix for inappropriately subsidizing government unions. The complaint alleges that collective bargaining agreements between the city and unions requiring “release time” for union officials are illegal. Release time allows union officials to exclusively conduct union business while being paid by the city — or more accurately, the city’s taxpayers.

The lawsuit coincides with Goldwater Institute reporter Ken Flatten’s investigation, “Money for Nothing: Phoenix taxpayers foot the bill for union work.” The report reveals that Phoenix government unions receive 73,000 hours of release time, costing the taxpayers $3.7 million a year.

The report and lawsuit allege that Phoenix City Council has violated the Arizona Constitution and their fiduciary duty to taxpayers. Arizona’s Gift Clause does not allow the government to award subsidies to private associations, unless there are equal tangible benefits in return. Release time never produces any benefits to the taxpayer, tangible or otherwise. Unfortunately, the U.S. Constitution has no such clause. Federal government unions logged 2.9 million hours of release time, costing taxpayers $129 million in FY 2009.

The report uncovered the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA) as the prime beneficiary of release time. PLEA release time cost the taxpayer $950,000 per year. In addition the top six PLEA union officials receive 100 percent release time. All six union officials earn at least $90,000 plus benefits per year from the city of Phoenix. That means Phoenix taxpayers pay six union officials over $500,000 per year that never perform government work.

Currently, the same Phoenix government unions are asking for a raise. Apparently, receiving millions of dollars a year to perform union work on the taxpayer’s dime is not enough.

PLEA Treasurer and Chief Contract Negotiator Will Buividas stated (while most likely on release time), “We’re seeking a raise because we’ve taken a 3.2 percent pay cut last year and continued this year.” The pay cuts he referenced were the first in Phoenix government union history. In 2010, the union made concessions due to the fact Phoenix had a $277 million deficit.

Now they are looking to recoup their losses in upcoming contract negotiations with the city. Phoenix government unions plan to bargain for raises, cost of living adjustments, and protections from outsourcing.

The Phoenix City Council should not begin contract negotiations with unions until release time is eliminated. The Goldwater Institute report interviewed several Phoenix councilmen that were part of the 2010 union contract negotiations. Unsurprisingly, most were unaware of the union release time provision. Release time is a completely inappropriate use of taxpayer money that is often ignored by politicians. Bit it shouldn’t be considering that Arizona’s current budget deficit stands at $1.5 billion.