Union Employees on Public Payroll Challenged in Pennsylvania Courts

A recent lawsuit filed by The Fairness Center, a public interest law firm, is challenging the Philadelphia School District’s practice of allowing school employees perform union work on school time, commonly referred to as “release time.”

Release time is a common provision in government union collective bargaining agreements that allows public employees to conduct union business instead of performing the duties they are paid to do.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, “Technically, up to 63 PFT workers — including union president Jerry Jordan — are permitted to remain on the district’s books, accruing seniority and pension time and receiving district health insurance. The union reimburses the district for the full cost of carrying the roughly 20 workers who are actually on the district’s books, a spokesman said.”

“Though the PFT reimburses the district its employees’ salary, benefit and pension costs, the Fairness Center says the state has put about $1 million toward their benefits since 1999, it estimated.”

Fortunately, as I’ve noted numerous time, 47 out of 50 states’ constitutions contain a provision that prohibits state and local governments from providing financial aid to private entities without receiving appropriate consideration, known as the “Gift Clause.” Release time is clearly a subsidy outside of the legal parameters of the Gift Clause.

In a previous post, I cover Pennsylvania’s Gift Clause:

Pennsylvania’s Constitution contains a provision known as the “Gift Clause.” Article VIII, Section 8 states, “The credit of the Commonwealth shall not be pledged or loaned to any individual, company, corporation or association nor shall the Commonwealth become a joint owner or stockholder in any company, corporation or association.”

At the core of the Gift Clause is that public funds must exclusively be expended for public purposes. In Pennsylvania, and many other states, the courts have created a judicial rule, known as the “public purpose” doctrine, which works hand in hand with the Gift Clause. The public-purpose doctrine was established in Pennsylvania, in Sharpless v. Mayor of Philadelphia.

The “public purpose” doctrine ensures tax funds prominently benefit the broader public and, conversely, a private entity is not the primary beneficiary of public expenditures. In addition, public funds may only be spent when it assists an activity that is a primary function of government that it traditionally performs.

In the Sharpless opinion, Justice C.J. Black states that ‘the legislature [does not have] any constitutional right to create a public debt, or to lay a tax . . . in order to raise funds for a mere private purpose.'”

My organization, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in an effort to expose the wasteful practice of release time, has sent numerous public records requests to various state and local governments. Below are public records requests that were sent to Pennsylvania school districts.

PA Release Time

Central Bucks School District Release Time

Employees on Short-Term Leave (October 2011-December 2011)

Employees on Long-term Reimbursed Leave to Unions (FY12 FY13)

Allentown Release Time

Employees on Short-Term Leave (January 2012-March 2012)

Employees on Short-Term Leave (March 2013-May 2013)

Employees on Short-Term Leave (April 2012-May 2012)

Employees on Short-Term Leave (June 2012-October 2012)

Employees on Short-Term Leave (November 2012-February 2013)

Employees on Long-term Reimbursed Leave to Unions (FY12 & FY13)