A recent article in the Yakima Herald-Republic describes a union subsidy, which pays 75 percent of the teachers’ union president’s salary, as “unusual.” Unfortunately, that is far from the case, and similar compensation packages are common across the country at every level of government.
Last summer, after contentious collective bargaining negotiations, the Yakima School District approved a contract with the Yakima Education Association. Despite both sides playing hardball on a number of issues, one longstanding provision remained untouched–“The Yakima School District agreed to pay 75 percent of the compensation for the president of the teachers’ union.”
The union subsidy is known as “release time,” a practice that allows public employees to conduct union business during working hours without loss of pay. A number of union activities are performed while employees are on release time, including contract negotiations, lobbying, attending union meeting/conference, and processing grievances.
As reported, “While on leave last school year, McKenna made $71,570 in salary and an additional $24,379 in insurance and mandatory benefits. Under the provision, the Yakima School District is paying close to $72,000 of his annual total compensation.”
Worse, the practice has been around since the late 1980s and no elected official has ever questioned why the Yakima School District pays the union president’s salary to conduct only union business.
“School board president Martha Rice said the board has no opinion on the subject of using taxpayer funds for a union officer’s compensation because no one from the public has ever brought it up.”
It is unsurprising that release time has not been the target of public scorn. In a recent report, I noted the great lengths that Missouri government employers went to to keep the cost and activity of release time hidden. For example, the Missouri Department of Corrections said they would charge $25,000 to process my public records request on release time.
Thankfully, the Freedom Foundation, a free-market non-profit organization, exposed the wasteful subsidy that has put release time in elected officials’ cross-hairs. Unfortunately, efforts to enact legislation to eliminate release time have stalled.
However, the state legislature may be unnecessary to relieve taxpayers from funding partisan union activity. Release time could violate a Washington state constitutional provision, known as the Gift Clause, that prohibits giving away the public’s money to solely private interests. As I’ve previously highlighted:
In CLEAN v. State of Washington (1996) the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the legality of expending public funds for a stadium for the Seattle Mariners by creating a two part test:
Do the funds carry out a fundamental purpose of government?
If no, does the appropriating government entity receive adequate consideration for the aiding the private interest?
In the case of union release time, neither Gift Clause criteria is met. All government employee unions are private institutions that exclusively serve the interest of its members.
For more on release time, see here and my new report, “A Remedy for Taxpayer Giveaway to Unions: Time to Enforce Missouri Constitution’s Bar on Gifts to Private Parties.”