Union Time on the Taxpayer Dime
Connecticut state budgets are in dire straits. Belts need to be tightened. Revenue projections estimate the budget deficit could spill over $900 million in 2016-2017. With such staggering shortfalls, no stone should be left unturned in trying to find and eliminate wasteful spending.
No one stakeholder can shoulder the load in balancing this kind of deficit. And, certainly, there are many areas where cuts can be made without reducing the quality of public services. But, like with any problem, it is easier – and wise – to go after low hanging fruit first. And in that regard, the Nutmeg state is in luck.
There is a wasteful expenditure that appears in every Connecticut state employee union collective bargaining agreement, which does not serve any public purpose. With the state in the midst of collective bargaining negotiations, now is the time to rid the contracts of that waste.
A new report from the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, “Union Time on the Taxpayer Dime,” highlights the practice of union business leave, whereby state employees take time off from performing public services to conduct union business on the taxpayer dime.
In no way does union business leave contribute to public services. It is a significant drain on public funds. In the last fiscal year, this union subsidy cost the state more than 121,000 work hours and $4.12 million, according to information provided by the state Office of Policy and Management.
Each and every collective bargaining agreement between the state and government unions includes a union business leave provision. The activity conducted on union business leave is what union dues are supposed to finance, but under the arrangement taxpayers pick up the tab. Activities allowed on union business leave include: meeting with employees to process a grievance, attending to contract administration duties, steward training, and attending union conventions among other activity.
Moreover, state officials have aired concerns that union business leave may be used for unauthorized activity. A 2014 general notice from the state Office of Labor Relations said agency personnel are worried the practice is being abused. It noted that there has been an uptick in requests for union business leave and that union representatives are using union business leave to conduct political activity, which is prohibited. To its credit, the Office of Labor Relations urged personnel to accurately record union business leave and report unauthorized activity. Yet, it is still unknown how, or if, these concerns of inappropriate conduct are being addressed.
Yet, regardless of whether the activity conducted on union business is authorized or not, the practice is a waste of taxpayer funds that should be eliminated. Public employers should stop negotiating the union subsidy into collective bargaining agreements, which could save millions of dollars annually.
Connecticut would not be alone in looking to rid union business leave from government balance sheets. In Arizona, a successful lawsuit filed by the Goldwater Institute found that the practice of union release time violated the state’s constitution, which restricts the use of public funds to exclusively public purposes. A similar lawsuit is underway in Pennsylvania. Several states – Michigan, Pennsylvania and Nevada to name a few – have passed or attempted to pass legislation to end the union subsidy. Connecticut should join that list.
This is not a partisan issue. All taxpayers can get on board restricting public funds to public services and eliminating expenditures that serve private purposes. Even some union officials agree. Austin, Texas fire union President Bob Nicks disagrees with the practice. Instead of fighting fires, Nicks collects a six-figure salary and performs union duties 100 percent of the time. “I’ve been fighting to be put back to work at our fire department,” he says. “The chief wouldn’t allow it. How much they have fought against me was crazy.”
Connecticut finances are, quite simply, a mess. Governor Dannel Malloy, who is no conservative, has even suggested trimming the state workforce by 1,000. While eliminating union business leave would not save 1,000 jobs from the cutting board, it is a good start.
When looking to fix the deficit, any expenditure that does not serve the public should be scrutinized. Union business leave should be first on the list.
Trey Kovacs is a labor policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and author of the Yankee Institute study Union Time on the Taxpayer Dime.