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Report Finds Kentucky Wastes Tax Money on Labor Union "Release Time"

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New information unearthed by a Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) open records inquiry reveals how Kentucky wastes taxpayer money on a little-known practice called union “release time.” Under release time, which is included in union collective bargaining agreements, teachers and other government workers are allowed to be absent from their jobs to perform union business -- while still getting paid by taxpayers.

“Labor union release time is a waste of taxpayer money that subsidizes political lobbying and other activities that benefit only the union,” said Trey Kovacs, a CEI labor policy analyst and author of the report, “Union Time on the Taxpayer Dime: How Kentucky Taxpayers Food the Bill for Union Business.”

“Taxpayers expect their elected officials to spend tax dollars only on activities that benefit the public. To meet this standard, Kentucky lawmakers should end the practice of union release time and instead make sure government workers are doing jobs they were hired to do,” said Kovacs.

Kentucky public employers are under no obligation to grant release time to unions, but it appears to be a common provision in collective bargaining agreements involving local governments and public school districts. Unfortunately, local governments do not publicize the costs associated with the policy.

Revelations from the CEI open record request include:

  • Release time hours for the largest municipality in Kentucky, the Louisville Metro Government, amounted to 9,542 in fiscal year 2018 – a 21 percent increase from the previous year and a 156 percent increase from FY 2013.
  • The Louisville city government did not specify what activity its employees performed on release time. However, release time has been permitted for collective bargaining negotiations, preparing grievances, attending internal union meetings, and attending the General Assembly, according to information gleaned from Louisville Metro Government collective bargaining agreements.
  • From FY 2013 to FY 2018, the cost of release time in Louisville has increased by over 150%.

Government unions have put more emphasis on release time since the 2018 Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME ended a big source of union venue - state laws compelling non-union public employees to pay for union representation.

The CEI report recommends several ways to end release time, including a vote by the legislature, efforts by public sector employers to exclude it from collective bargaining, and constitutional litigation invoking the state’s Gift Clause prohibition against giving away public money to private entities.

View the report, Union Time on the Taxpayer Dime: How Kentucky Taxpayers Food the Bill for Union Business by Trey Kovacs