A lengthy investigation by the Goldwater Institute into unions inside the city of Phoenix shows that not only are taxpayers paying for some union activities, but the spending of the money may be going against Arizona's constitution.
The investigation found that bargaining agreements within the city require Phoenix to pay union officers and provide members with thousands of additional hours to "conduct union business instead of doing their government jobs."
In total, the city pays about $3.7 million per year to seven unions, according to payroll records obtained by the Goldwater Institute. The city also provides more than 73,000 hours of release time annually for city workers to do union business.
"The council and the public was not given full information," said City Councilman Sal DiCiccio. "I'm very thankful the Goldwater Institute was looking into it because they were able to find it. That $3.7 million is a low number. That is going to go higher than that. The city of Phoenix cuts after-school programs for little kids and, at the same time, funds union activity. It just doesn't make sense."
According to the article written by Mark Flatten, union officials say the release time leads to a more productive workforce and allows the city to negotiate overall lower wages.
"It is about how we relate to our employees in a unionized work environment," Assistant City Manager Ed Zuercher said in the article. "We think it's important to have a cooperative relationship with our employees; that they get the best representation for their rights and the best education that they can. So these hours are feeding into that ability."
Negotiations with labor groups are required by city ordinance, but DiCiccio said the Goldwater Institute believes the money counts as a gift and under the "gift clause" in the Arizona Constitution, that is illegal.
"Taxpayer money is going into the pockets of union bosses to do union work, not public business," said Nick Dranias, the constitutional policy director with the Goldwater Institute. "The constitution, under the gift clause, prohibits subsidies to private individuals and organizations. A subsidy is when the government gives somebody something for nothing. In essence, the government is giving the union money so the union can run the union, which is nothing for the government."
Dranias said this is all possible because city unions have so much power at the polls.
"Cities are notoriously subject to off-year election cycles that are at odd times, when the people who tend to show up to vote tend to be unions," Dranias said. "Across the table from the union reps are people who realize their political careers are possibly in the hands of that person on the other side of the table. When that person on the other side of the table says, ‘Pay me so I can do union work.' They say, ‘yes.' In fact, they all say, ‘yes.' It's a good way of securing your election and your future.
"It's also an easy way, when the taxpayers aren't looking, to keep the unions happy and keep your employees happy. Everyone wins except for the taxpayer."
The Goldwater Institute is considering suing the city from two different vantage points. The first would be violating the gift clause and the second would be to enforce the idea that a public office is a public trust and officials cannot self-deal.
DiCiccio recommends that all labor contracts should be available for public inspection 30 days before the council votes on them and that all terms should be defined in layman's language in a glossary. He also recommends that all previous benefits enjoyed by each labor group should be listed in advance of the negotiations and all negotiations should be taped and transcribed. Finally, DiCiccio called for the proposed budget to show all labor costs, benefits cost, bonuses and raises and for all contracts to be audited.
"What they're going to say is, ‘We've done it this way for years,'" DiCiccio said. "If I hear someone say one more time, ‘This is the way we've always done it,' I think that one comment alone is enough to send people over the bridge."
The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association was named by the Goldwater Institute as the largest beneficiary of the current system. When contacted by the Ahwatukee Foothills News, PLEA officials said they would not comment on the issue.
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