When you’re hired to do a job, it stands to reason that you should actually do the job you’ve been hired to do. Think about it. If a company hired you to be a writer, and you never did any writing for the company, you probably wouldn’t keep your job too long. That is, of course, unless you work for the government.

For quite some time now, federal, state, and local governments across the country—including right here in Arizona—have been engaging in the practice of “release time.” If you’re unfamiliar with this term, it means that certain people are hired to do a specific job for the government, but instead of doing that job, they are “released” to work full-time for their union. This could be someone like a teacher, for example, who instead of teaching students, spends all his or her time doing work for the teachers’ union. But here’s the thing, even though these employees don’t actually work for the government, they still get a paycheck from the government—all funded by your tax dollars.

Is this practice unfair? Yes. Is it unconstitutional? Absolutely.

That’s why the Goldwater Institute has been challenging this practice in our state in a case that has made its way to the Arizona Supreme Court called Gilmore v. Gallego. In this case, the City of Phoenix entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a union called the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Local 2384, Field Unit II (AFSCME). Under the agreement, the City must provide AFSCME with the following to the tune of $499,000 annually:

    • Four full-time release positions for union members where they can engage exclusively in union activities.
    • An annual bank of up to 3,183 release time hours permitted to be used for union purposes.
    • 150 release time hours provided for union members to attend seminars, lectures, and conventions.
    • Up to $14,000 the City will reimburse the union so union members can attend employee-relations skill training.

This is outrageous! So, in support of Goldwater’s lawsuit, the Free Enterprise Club and the Grand Canyon Legal Center filed an amicus brief for two distinct reasons.

First, under the MOU, all employees are being charged the cost of the release time, whether they are members of the labor union or not. This is a direct violation of the First Amendment and the Arizona Constitution. Freedom of speech not only includes the right to speak freely, but also includes the right to choose not to speak. And in this circumstance, the City of Phoenix is forcing non-union members to pay for a union to engage in speech that they may not necessarily agree with.

Second, if the release time is being funded by the City of Phoenix, then it violates the Arizona Constitution’s Gift Clause, which prohibits the government from giving money to private organizations without getting something in return. Clearly, release time does not serve a public purpose. In fact, the unions actually bargain on behalf of the private financial interests of government employees against the public. As a result, the government employees may receive a benefit in the form of a higher salary, but taxpayers receive no such benefit. Instead, taxpayers only receive higher taxes.

For both these reasons, the Arizona Supreme Court should strike down this illegal practice in our state. No government employee should be getting paid to conduct union work. Instead, the state’s highest court should restore some common sense and ensure that government employees are only paid to perform the duties of the jobs they were hired to do.

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