By Sean Higgins, Research Fellow, Competitive Enterprise Institute
Click here to read the full PDF of “Union Time on the Taxpayer Dime: How Florida Taxpayers Subsidize Private Union Activity”
Imagine that on each working day, public employees report for work but do not perform any governmental duties. Instead, they work for a private entity that does not advance any public purpose—their union—and taxpayers pay for these employees’ wages and benefits.
Unfortunately, there is no need to imagine. While most Floridians are likely unaware of this public expenditure, Florida municipalities dole out millions of taxpayer dollars to public employee unions through a common practice known as release time. Release timeallows public employees to conduct union business during working hours without loss of pay.
Worse, several local governments fail to track what activities these public employees conduct while using release time. Due to this poor tracking, release time amounts to a no-strings attached multi-million-dollar taxpayer-funded subsidy to government unions, which are actually private organizations. It places no obligation on public employee unions to provide anything in return for this taxpayer-funded subsidy.
Whatever the union business conducted on release time may be, there is one incontrovertible fact—it provides no direct public benefit. Rather, it exclusively serves the interests of government employee unions. The purpose of government unions is to advance the interests of their members. Therefore, union members should fund the private activity of the labor organization. Yet, release time sticks Florida taxpayers with the tab for private union activity.
Union release time is a blatant misuse of taxpayer money, overtly directing taxpayer dollars and human resources to activities that only promote the unions’ interests. These activities are frequently in stark contrast to the interests of the taxpayers footing the bill. It stands to reason (and common sense) that taxpayer funds should be reserved for public purposes, not the private benefit of individuals, corporations, or associations.
In 2019, the Florida legislature proposed reforms that would eliminate the practice of union release time.[i] As the 2020 legislative session approaches, eliminating this multi-million dollar subsidy to public-employee unions should be a priority.
[i] Fla. H.R. Subcommittee on Oversight, Transparency & Public Management, HB 13 (2019) https://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Bills/billsdetail.aspx?BillId=65265&SessionId=87