City taxpayers have been forced to foot the bill for several years’ worth of union activities, according to a lawsuit filed last week.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute filed suit against the City of Austin and the Austin Firefighters Association last week on behalf of plaintiffs Jay Wiley and Mark Pulliam for using public funds for union business.

As it is now, municipalities around the country grant a direct subsidy to public sector union employees known as, “release time.” Also known as “association business leave,” or “union leave,” this allows employees to take time to perform union activities without experiencing any loss in pay.

According to a report by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the City of Austin paid for 27,820 hours of union, “release time.” According to Watchdog, that adds up to $821,313 paid out for union workers. TPPF alleges that this constitutes a gift, and therefore violates the Texas Constitution.

The Texas Constitution states, “(T)he Legislature shall have no power to authorize any county, city, town or other political corporation or subdivision of the State to lend its credit or to grant public money or thing of value in aid of, or to any individual, association or corporation whatsoever.”

“The City of Austin is engaged in a taxpayer-funded practice that diverts firefighters away from some of the most crucial services Austin provides, and instead places them under the direction and control of a private labor organization for its own use and benefit,” the lawsuit argues. “Indeed, not only do the majority of release time activities not advance a public purpose, they are often directly opposed to the interests of Austin and Austin taxpayers.”

According to their website, the Austin Firefighters Association states they intend to fight the suit. They rightly claim that the target of the case is “associated business leave” for all public employee unions – not just Austin Firefighters. However, their best argument is, essentially, that other public employee unions do it too.

It is unclear exactly how much city taxpayers around the state are forced to pay for unions to conduct their own business. Considering that their goals are often at odds with the interests of taxpayers, perhaps it’s time to end the practice altogether.

The lawsuit can be read in its entirety here.

Greg Harrison

Gregory led the Central Texas Bureau for Empower Texans and Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he got involved politically through the Young Conservatives of Texas. He enjoys fishing, grilling, motorcycling, and of course, all things related to firearms.

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