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Paid "Union Release Time" for Public Employees is Unconstitutional, Arizona Court Holds

David P. Phippen
Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP - Fairfax Office

March 7, 2014

Previously published on February 26, 2014

Public employee unions have grown accustomed to having taxpayers pay for union activity, including lobbying. The practice is incorporated in many state, county and municipal union contracts across the nation. For the federal government, the cost to taxpayers is conservatively estimated at $155 million a year.

In what may be an important initial victory in stopping forced taxpayer support of union activity, including overt political activity, a state court in Phoenix has held that so-called "union release time" at government expense violates the gift clause of the Arizona Constitution because public monies were being diverted to private use with no corresponding public purpose or benefit in return.

In the lawsuit, brought by the Goldwater Institute against the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, a labor union, the plaintiffs alleged that Phoenix police officers engaged in recruitment and campaign activities, and lobbied against the interests of the City, while on paid union release time.

So, where now? Forty-seven states' constitutions reportedly have gift clauses, and at the federal level there may be First Amendment and other legal implications. The police union in Phoenix is appealing the court's decision.


The views expressed in this document are solely the views of the author and not Martindale-Hubbell. This document is intended for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for consultation with a licensed legal professional in a particular case or circumstance.

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