Phoenix Officials Tweak Labor Contracts to Comply with Court Ruling on Release Time
Phoenix City Council members this week amended labor agreements with two unions to comply with a court ruling that found the city's longstanding practice of including "release time" in its contracts violated the state's gift clause.
Phoenix City Council debates amendments to union contracts.
That clause prohibits gifts of public money to people or businesses unless the government body can prove it gets direct and tangible benefit in return.
Under its old release time practice, the city allowed labor leaders to receive their usual salaries, plus overtime, while conducting union work, including representing other employees at disciplinary hearings, lobbying, and campaigning.
That eventually ended after the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based conservative think tank, filed a lawsuit in 2011 claiming the city was giving an unlawful "gift" to the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, PLEA, via the release time.
City of Phoenix's legal experts couldn't prove in court that there was any direct benefit to taxpayers, and the city was forced to end the "release time."
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper put a stop to the practice for the 2010-2012 labor agreements, but when they expired in June 2012, the city "promptly resumed the prohibited release time" in July 2012 for the 2012-2014 labor agreements, according to court records.
City officials are now taking a different approach and agreed on Wednesday to refund the unused "release time" written into labor agreements with PLEA and the Laborers' International Union of North America, LIUNA 777, back to employees in the form of vacation time. Click here for details on the amended labor agreements.
The employees can, in turn, donate the additional vacation time into a bank of hours that union leaders can draw on to continue doing certain union-related work, such as representing employees during disciplinary hearings.
Councilmen Sal DiCiccio, Bill Gates, and Jim Waring voted against the amendment.
Clint Bolick, the Goldwater Institute's vice president for litigation, says that while Phoenix is taking positive steps in its amended agreements, its latest action is a "shell game" that will result in "the same old practices, still funded by taxpayer dollars."
Bolick says that the Goldwater Institute plans to "take action" against the city.