Arizona public employees can no longer use hardworking taxpayers’ dollars to conduct business on behalf of private unions. Arizona governor Doug Ducey signed a first-in-the-nation law, prohibiting “any public employee to engage in union activities or provide paid leave or any compensation for the purposes of engaging in union activity.” The legislation was crafted by The Goldwater Institute, who advocated for labor reform after their investigative report found that release time in the city of Phoenix cost taxpayers over three million dollars in 2020.
Release time permits state and federal government employees to participate and engage in private union business while continuing to earn pay and benefits. For example, a public school teacher can actively lobby the state legislature on behalf of the teachers’ union, while continuing to earn a regular paycheck. In essence, release time makes taxpayers foot the bill for union work.
The practice of release time has been hotly debated even at the highest levels of government. Former President Donald Trump issued an executive order in 2018 in an attempt to curtail release time and create a more effective federal government. This executive order did not prevent workers from joining the union but required unions to use their own funds, not Americans’ tax dollars, to pay their representatives. President Joe Biden in one of his first executive orders, repealed the prior administration’s decision, once again allowing private unions to further their own interests on the public’s dime.
The Goldwater Institute has been sounding the alarm on release time for several years and has led the charge to resolve the issue through policy reform. “Public funds should advance the public’s interest, not the political and lobbying activities of private labor unions,” Goldwater president and CEO, Victor Riches said. “This law will ensure that tax dollars cannot be used to pay government workers to lobby and engage in political activities for labor unions instead of working for the public.”
Goldwater Institute began by seeking to understand the costs associated with the practice of release time. Goldwater created an investigative report, which tracked local and state government employees’ engagement in union activities while still receiving their regular pay and benefits. The report found that some state governments do not track release time. If they do, it’s difficult to tell if the data reported by these agencies is accurate: “Of the 150 agencies surveyed, only 82 were able to produce data on the number of hours they allowed in release time, including 44 jurisdictions that reported zero hours. Even fewer provided cost figures. The rest generally admitted they do not track the hours and cost of release time or said it would take extensive research to determine if the data exists.”
Through grant support from State Policy Network, Goldwater launched an educational campaign to show how release time was diverting tax dollars away from essential public services and directing them to private union activities instead. The campaign featured a 50-state release time tracker map that looked at the department of corrections, the nation’s largest school districts, city governments, and detailed the amount of money spent by these agencies on union activities. This campaign, as well as several litigation cases in different states, has been a long been part of Goldwater’s advocacy for legislative reforms. The state think tank has introduced model release time legislation to state lawmakers and spotlighted the fiscal irresponsibility of release time. Thanks to Goldwater’s key research, data, and analysis, Arizona lawmakers have ended this corrupt union practice.
With the SB1166 now signed into law, Goldwater is hopeful that other states will follow suit and end release time. Goldwater is a key member of SPN’s group of labor experts from across the Network who regularly share best practices and help good policy reforms spread to multiple states.
In a press release responding to the new Arizona law, Goldwater stated: “We thank Governor Ducey for signing this important reform, and we urge other states to follow Arizona’s lead. While there is still much work to be done to curb taxpayer spending abuses in Arizona and around the country, the enactment of SB166 is a significant first step.”