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Subsidy Forces Florida Taxpayers to Pay for Union Work

Most hardworking Americans would be shocked to learn that public employees at all levels of government—federal, state, and local—conduct union business that is totally unrelated to their civic duties, on the taxpayers’ dime.

The cost of this wasteful practice, known as union release time, is largest at the federal level. In 2014, the latest data available, release time cost, at minimum, $162.5 million with federal employees spending over 3 million hours performing union business.

But that does not mean the money and time wasted at the state and local level is trivial. In a report released today by the James Madison Institute, a free-market think tank in Florida, finds Miami-Dade County, the City of Jacksonville, and the City of Tampa heavily subsidize government unions via release time:

Year

Locality

Hours

Cost

FY 2014

Dade-County

101,489

$3.2 million

FY 2015

Dade-County

96,222

$3.1 million

FY 2016

Dade-County

93,956

$2.9 million

FY 2014

Jacksonville

14,853

$399,245

FY 2015

Jacksonville

13,071

$341,980

FY 2016

Jacksonville

12,824

$314,677

FY 2014

Tampa

8,612

$285,925

FY 2015

Tampa

5,939

$188,797

FY 2016

Tampa

10,580

$366,771

ar Locality Hours Cost

Giving away that much public money for nothing in return is bad, but it gets worse. None of these three municipalities track and record what these public employees do on release time. This is an enormous oversight by those local governments. In previous research, the Competitive Enterprise Institute has found public employees use release time on suspect activities.

In Missouri, as I noted in an op-ed with State Senator Bob Onder:

Communication Workers of America (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.

Texas government unions also use release time for outrageous purposes. The Austin, Texas public-employee unions spent release time going to fishing tournaments, retirement parties and barbecues.

Fortunately, there are two fairly straightforward tools to eliminate this wasteful subsidy.

First, the three Florida local governments examined in this report collective bargaining agreements are set to expire in 2017. Local officials can simply just refuse to include release time provisions in future contracts.

Second, the state legislature can pass legislation that bans release time. Florida is well positioned to pass such a law. Florida has Republican majorities in both chambers of the state legislature and control of the governorship. If Florida Republicans are true to their party platform of fiscal conservatism, release time should be ripe for elimination. This is a way to cut government spending without reducing government services because eliminating release time puts government employees back to serving the public, not the private interests of their union.

Union release time is a wasteful practice that does not serve any public purpose, just the interests of labor unions. There is no reason for taxpayers to foot the bill for this expense.