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Time to Eliminate Hidden Taxpayer Support of Union Activities

Tax dollars should exclusively support the public’s business. But a Mackinac Center for Public Policy open records request show this is not the case in Michigan. According to the Michigan Civil Service Commission’s response to the records request, “Michigan is paying 20 state employees annual salaries totaling more than $1.2 million to do union work on a full-time basis.”

More than just these 20 employees use release time. Some only spend part of their day on union activities rather than state work.

Worse, this wasteful practice is not limited to state employees. Another $3 million of taxpayer dollars are frittered away by Michigan school districts, by allowing about 100 employees to conduct union business while being paid by taxpayers.

This practice, known as release time, permits state and local employees to perform union business instead of the public duties they were hired to do. Normally, release time provisions are negotiated into public employee unions’ collective bargaining agreements with government entities.

Unfortunately, Michigan is far from the only state or government supplying government unions with this subsidy.

At the federal level, civil servants spend 3.4 million hours on union business, costing taxpayers at least $162.5 million in FY 2014.

Some progress has been made this session of Congress to bring transparency to the practice of release time, or official time as it is called by the federal government. The House passed H.R. 1293, sponsored by Representative Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), which requires the Office of Personnel Management to submit an annual report on the practice of “official time.” The bill passed out of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on July 26, 2017.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has submitted a number of public records requests on the subject in Florida, Connecticut, Texas, and Missouri. These states have spent millions of dollars paying for release time. Even more egregious than the dollar amount is the activity that is performed on release time.

In Texas, Austin Fire Department public employees were granted release time to attend a “Retirement BBQ,” “fishing tournament,” and “Retirement Party.”

In Missouri, release time funded union political activity. Missouri Communication Workers of America (CWA) members spent release time participating in “Lobby Day, Jefferson City,” an event organized by the CWA and other public-employee unions to lobby legislators. And on Lobby Day, the CWA sent 10 members on release time to the state Capitol, where they lobbied legislators to vote against right to work and paycheck protection laws.

In Florida, local governments—Miami-Dade County, the City of Tampa, and the City of Jacksonville—do not even keep track of what activity release time employees do.

There is no public benefit from allowing government employees to perform union business on the taxpayer dime. Congress and state governments around the country should figure out a way to eliminate this wasteful practice.