NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Government Scandal (You Haven't Heard Of)

July 29, 2013

By now it is well-known that public employee contracts with generous wages and benefits are bankrupting state and local governments across the country and encircling the necks of future generations with an anvil of debt. What is almost completely unknown is that union officials who negotiate lavish contracts for government workers are often paid to do so with taxpayer dollars, says Clint Bolick, a research fellow with the Hoover Institution and the director of the Goldwater Institute's Center for Constitutional Litigation.

  • This is part of a widespread practice called "release time," in which public employees are paid full-time wages and benefits by taxpayers, yet they report and answer not to government officials (or taxpayers) but to their unions.
  • In turn, release time can be used for lobbying, campaigning, soliciting grievances, union recruiting, and negotiating for higher wages and benefits -- all at the taxpayer's expense.

The practice was exposed in a 2011 report by Goldwater Institute investigative journalist Mark Flatten. He found that the City of Phoenix's seven public employee union contracts included 73,000 hours of release time, at a total cost of $3.7 million. Most other cities around the nation, he found, also have release time. So does the federal government, which calls it "official time."

  • In 2011, taxpayers funded 3.4 million hours of union work at a cost of $156 million.
  • Among those diverted to union work from their government jobs are 17 air traffic controllers (16 of whom are paid six-figure salaries to do so) -- a wasteful extravagance that came to light when air traffic controllers were furloughed as part of the Obama administration's response to the federal budget sequester.
  • Since then, it was reported that part of the backlog in processing claims at the Veterans' Administration is attributable to union release time.

Source: Clint Bolick, "The Government Scandal (You Haven't Heard Of)," Defining Ideas, July 11, 2013.


Browse more articles on Tax and Spending Issues