Union Time, Taxpayer Dime
Across the country, public money pays for government-union officials’ political activities.
The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia likely spared public-employee unions a devastating legal defeat. In Scalia’s absence, the 4-4 stalemate in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association allowed labor groups to continue charging an “agency fee” to employees who don’t want to join a union. Now, powerful government-employee unions face another legal challenge, this time from disgruntled taxpayers who object to paying the salaries of union officials engaging in political activities.
So-called “release time” or “association business leave,” a common provision in public-employee union contracts, allows government workers—who are also union officers—to receive their full salaries at taxpayer expense, even if they exclusively perform union business. Release time costs state, local, and federal taxpayers more than $100 million annually. Taxpayers nationwide have begun challenging this subsidy, contending that it constitutes an unconstitutional “gift” of public funds. Unlike Friedrichs, which alleged a violation of the Constitution, current litigation relies on state constitutions, the interpretation of which doesn’t rest on federal precedent, and thus is not dependent on the composition of the High Court. State courts are the final arbiters of their own constitutions, a fact that liberal activists have—ironically—exploited in the past to achieve policy goals not possible under the U.S. Constitution.
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