Union Subsidy Wastes Millions of Taxpayer Dollars in Florida

Florida has a problem with taxpayer giveaways to labor unions due to a practice known as “release time,” explains a new report from Florida’s James Madison Institute co-authored by Competitive Enterprise Institute labor policy expert Trey Kovacs. Research conducted by the report authors revealed that while millions of dollars annually are spent paying for government workers to conduct labor union business, the time and activities associated with union release time are poorly tracked by government agencies, as described by the James Madison Institute.

The James Madison Institute Calls for End of Taxpayer Subsidies of Unions Through Release Time

~JMI notes taxpayer funds help public employees push against taxpayer interest 

Local governments in Florida are allowing a “blatant misuse of taxpayer money” by paying employees to perform union tasks unrelated to their public duties, essentially giving away scarce tax resources to private entities for private benefit, The James Madison Institute says in a new policy brief. Released just four days before Labor Day, the analysis concludes that Florida should put an end to “union release time,” a taxpayer-funded subsidy that allows members of public employee unions to conduct union business during working hours without loss of pay.

Even though Florida is a right-to-work state – meaning no employee can be forced to join a union in order to get a job – Florida municipalities give public employee unions access to millions of taxpayer dollars each year in the form of release time, according to the JMI policy brief.

“The business conducted on release time has no public benefit – it exclusively serves the interests of government unions. At a time of increasing scrutiny at all levels of taxpayer funding in Florida, organized labor, not taxpayers, should incur those costs. Yet, release time sticks taxpayers with the tab for private union activity,” according to the policy brief authored by Trey Kovacs, JMI adjunct scholar and policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Sal Nuzzo, JMI’s vice president of policy.

The policy brief assails unions for release time practices that use tax dollars to promote the unions’ interests and notes that Florida governments do not effectively track their employees’ release time activities. In some places, employees are involved in activities that support union efforts that conflict with taxpayers’ interests.

“Government employees have a special responsibility to the public, and they should honor those responsibilities,” said Dr. Bob McClure, president and CEO of The James Madison Institute. “Labor Day was conceived to honor the many contributions of working men and women, and hard working taxpayers shouldn’t be expected to subsidize private unions that, in furthering their own agendas, often work against the interests of the taxpayer.”

Working in conjunction with JMI, researchers from the Competitive Enterprise Institute compiled public records from Miami-Dade County and the cities of Tampa and Jacksonville to examine the number of hours of union release time, activities paid for with release time, and the cost.

“As a right-to-work state, Floridians are not forced to pay union dues, yet release time amounts to a multi-million dollar taxpayer-funded subsidy,” said Nuzzo. “The so-called public unions are not required to return anything to the public, and local governments exercise little control over the use of release time. This glaring issue erodes the trust that taxpayers place in their government and should be addressed.”

Miami-Dade, Florida’s most populous county, allowed nearly 100,000 hours of release time in 2016. The same year, the City of Tampa spent $366,771 for unionized employees to conduct various union-related activities, while the City of Jacksonville used $314,677 for similar release time.

In reviewing the release time data, CEI’s Kovacs said it was particularly concerning that some county officials do not track or record what activities are taking place on union release time. “This practice is unsettling as it demonstrates a complete lack of transparency and accountability,” he said. “Public unions exist across the country as some of the most powerful and well-funded political machines, and it is wrong for taxpayers to be held accountable to provide these employees compensation when they are performing non-public work.” 

JMI recommends that Florida eliminate union release time, citing several ways this can be accomplished including via specific policy or through an elimination of release time provisions in collective bargaining agreements. The government should focus on ways to cut taxpayer funds to private organizations that do not benefit the public, JMI said, and government employees should not perform duties unrelated to their public duties while on the clock at their government jobs.

“The Sunshine State has the tools at its disposal to put an end to the practice of giving away scarce taxpayer resources to private entities for private benefit. It is now time to use those tools,” the policy brief concludes.

The policy brief is available here.

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The James Madison Institute is Florida’s premier free-market think tank. JMI conducts research on such issues as health care, taxes, and regulatory environments. Founded in 1987, JMI is one of the nation’s oldest and largest 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational organizations.