Taxpayer Funding of Union Activities Under Challenge in Austin


Spend some time with government labor contracts, and you’ll find that free withholding of dues isn’t the only way in which taxpayers subsidize the unions themselves.  Employees get paid for time spent on union activities around the workplace, they get space and storage for union operations, and they even get paid time off to go to union conferences and regional meetings.

In Austin, Texas, a lawsuit by residents Mark Pulliam and Jay Wiley contends that these practices violate a provision in the state constitution forbidding the payment of public resources to private organizations for “work that does not benefit the public,” as the Texas Monitor article linked above puts it:

The city’s 1,100 firefighters are contractually given a combined maximum of up to 6,600 hours annually in which to conduct union business, while public safety departments in other cities receive strict guidelines about such leave.

Those hours are spread out through the department. In 2017-2018, 70 firefighter association members received the leave time, according to timesheets.

The union and the city contend the activities, which include attending meetings of its political action committee, are within the bounds of the contract between the city and the firefighters union.

Rhode Island does not have such a provision in its constitution, and the lay of the law in the Ocean State would likely hold that union activities do “benefit the public.”  Nonetheless, it’s worth remembering how interwoven the unions are with our government and questioning the propriety of this spending.