States seek to rein in union costs

March 15, 2012


— Sal DiCiccio says he’s sorry. It is, he says, no excuse that the complex labor contracts that he, as a member of the city council, voted to ratify for city employees were presented to the council less than a week before the vote. He says he should have seen that the contracts contain some indefensible, not to mention unconstitutional, provisions, such as those pertaining to “release time.”

Read on, and then find out if similar things are occurring in your community. They probably are.

The “gift clause” in Arizona’s Constitution and similar provisions in some other states’ constitutions are supposed to prevent the state government or municipal governments from conferring special benefits on “any individual, association, or corporation.” The proscribed benefits include gifts, loans of state credit, donations, grants or subsidies.

This clause has been largely vitiated by Arizona courts’ decisions allowing entanglements of government and private interests that supposedly serve a “public purpose” or provide a “public benefit.” These are loopholes large enough to drive a truck through — a truck carrying $900,000. That is the estimated value of the release time taxpayers are funding just for the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA), the police union. The $900,000 pays union officials to work exclusively performing undefined union business, including lobbying, on the city’s time and the taxpayers’ dime.

Mark Flatten of the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank, says all six of the top PLEA officers derive full pay and benefits from the city, although each is assigned full time to the union — and each is also entitled to 160 hours of annual extra-pay overtime. Officials of the six other public employees unions also have full-time city jobs. All told, the annual bill for 73,000 hours of release time is $3.7 million.

In 2007, Phoenix voters endorsed a sales tax increase to pay for more police and firefighters. DiCiccio, who is working for better contracts, knows that few voters knew about the existence, let alone the costs, of release time.  

Other states and local governments have release time provisions in contracts with public employees, as do some federal contracts. The unions, and their partners and enablers in government, insist that release time activities improve government employees’ morale and efficiency and they receive the release time benefit in lieu of higher wages and benefits. But how could that be demonstrated?

If release time really involves no increase in aggregate compensation to union members, why do unions favor this roundabout route to compensation? One reason, perhaps, is to punish police officers who do not join the union: They see some of their potential wages go instead to union officials. Also, if union activities were paid for by union dues rather than tax dollars, there would be less dues money available for campaign contributions.

This is a crucial difference between release time provisions negotiated by private companies: In the private sector, unions are not effectively on both sides of the negotiation table. Collusion between the employer and the employees’ union is inherent in public-sector unionization, particularly because public-sector employers and employees have congruent interests in increasing government budgets.

Release time provisions have existed for 40 years. What is new is a willingness to call attention to them and contest them, a willingness born of the pressure the recession has put on municipal budgets. Until now, Wisconsin has been ground zero in the spreading desire to reconsider the costly prerogatives of public-sector unions. In January, however, a series of bills were introduced in the Arizona Legislature to end release time and even end collective bargaining.

Another measure would end the practice of the state and local governments collecting dues for the unions by deducting them from employees’ paychecks. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels did this by executive order on his first day in office seven years ago. Union dues collections then declined 90 percent. And last month Indiana became the first Midwestern industrial state to become a right-to-work state.

As a percentage of the workforce, private-sector unionization peaked in 1954. Now, thanks to events here and in Gov. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, Indiana and elsewhere, and thanks to local officials like DiCiccio, public-sector unionization, which began in the 1950s, may have passed its apogee.

— George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.  


cato_the_elder 6 years, 2 months ago

“It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.” - George Meany, former President of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.

"The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government." - Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Katara 6 years, 2 months ago

It is too bad that you choose to take FDR's quote out of context.

Please refer to the entire letter. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=15445#axzz1pR474JpB

FDR was not opposed to public unions. He was opposed to public unions using strikes as part of the bargaining process.

Katara 6 years, 2 months ago

Then you have absolutely no understanding how the bargaining process works if you believe that unions are powerless without the ability to strike. Most bargaining is done in good faith and without resorting to threats of strikes or lockouts.

Strikes and lockouts occur when the bargaining process fails.

George Meany never organized a strike during his time nor did he take part in one. It was unnecessary as there was no need to strike. The bargaining process was working.

You know what is interesting about the George Meany quote? There is no context. There is absolutely nothing out there to tell us why he said that or what other utterances occurred with that quote. And the only place you see it quoted is on conservative, right wing and anti-union websites.

Perhaps you or cato_the_elder could be so kind as to find the original quote in its original context so all can view it?

I shouldn't be surprised that you have no issue with taking quotes out of context. It is sad when people have to resort to such dishonest tactics to mislead others.

Katara 6 years, 2 months ago

"If you think all that's needed is collective bargaining then you need to study it more closely or spend 27 years in manufacturing as I have done."

Yeah, figured you whip that little gem out, Mr. Plant Manager. Sorry, if you were a plant manager, you were not involved in the bargaining process. Don't pretend that you are "in the know" about such things. Manufacturing unions are not the same as service unions and to lump all unions together as if they behave and act the same really shows your ignorance.

Great. George Meany presided over a different time! Pretty much makes his pronouncement meaningless now. I guess you can't find the source of that quote either which makes it even more meaningless.

You offer an interesting argument. You argue that public sector unions are powerless because they have no ability to strike. You use the Kansas Teachers' union & federal employees' union as examples. It is interesting because the current "conservative" argument is that public sector unions are too powerful and take advantage of their positions with tax payers' monies.

So which is it now? The public sector unions are powerless (which would make all this union-busting nonsense nothing more than typical political grandstanding) or public sector unions are over-powerful and must be reined in with legislation designed to break them?

You know, with all the jobs and experience you've claimed to have had here since you've signed up, you have to be at least 152 years old.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 2 months ago

Goofy is right-- and the strawman was Will's creation, not mine.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 2 months ago

Save The Unions

The Bush/Cheney fraudulent home loan fiasco wiped out 11 million jobs many of which went abroad. And the Nations economy went straight to hell! Did the unions order republicans to creates financial chaos? Of course not. Republicans cost the USA too much money.

Considering the impact republicans,Koch Industries and Wal-Mart family money have on salary packages and hourly wage levels how should college grads be expected to pay back college loans? Republicans cost the USA too much money!

The repub party and all of the above are waging war on salaries for white and blue collar workers. Republicans cost the USA too much money.

If they are successful in doing away with unions, workers in the USA will see a dramatic reduction in wages across the board for blue and white collar workers Union or not. Again Republicans cost the USA too much money.

Do you want to work for less?

Unions are responsible for good wages in the USA and:

  1. over time pay
  2. 40 hour work weeks as opposed to 80
  3. Vacation with pay
  4. Sick leave with pay
  5. Medical insurance coverage
  6. Pay Increases
  7. Job protection based on legitimate concerns
  8. Protection against race and gender discrimination
  9. Disability Pay

Who wants to work for less? How can lower wages pay back college loans?

Republicans cost the USA too much money!

Richard Heckler 6 years, 2 months ago

Republicans cost the USA too much money!

Tax cuts for the wealthy create tax increases and more debt ......... not less. Why?

Because the less government boys and girls have never created less government. It's all rhetoric. Aka bullcrap!

When Reagan and GW Bush put millions upon millions upon millions out of work,out of medical insurance and out of retirement plans this increases the Social Services Budget big time. Not too damn smart.

When corporate america consistently ships millions of USA jobs abroad this puts millions upon millions upon millions out of work,out of medical insurance and out of retirement plans this increases the Social Services Budget big time. Not too damn smart.

Republicans support the above big time by refusing to replace jobs. Again NOT too damn smart.

Let me put this another way. It takes jobs jobs jobs jobs jobs jobs to create other jobs,to create a steady flow of new economic growth which creates a steady flow of tax dollars to the cookie jars which pays the bills in order to stop increasing taxes.

When the jobs are eliminated what happens? The flow of new money is drastically reduced thus leaving fewer to pay the bills that never went away which inevitably produces tax increases.

The Republican Party of NO is an obstruction to new wealth and new industry and jobs jobs jobs.

Republicans cost the Nation too much money!

Richard Heckler 6 years, 2 months ago

Republicans cost the nation too much money!

  1. ENTITLEMENT - TABOR is Coming by Grover Norquist and Koch Bros sells out state governments, public schools,SRS services etc etc to private industry = Grab Your Wallets! http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2005/0705rebne.html

  2. ENTITLEMENT - Bailing out The Reagan/Bush Savings and Loan Heist aka home loan scandal sent the economy out the window costing taxpayers many many $$ trillions (Cost taxpayers $1.4 trillion), Plus millions of jobs, loss of retirement plans and loss of medical insurance. http://rationalrevolution0.tripod.com/war/bush_family_and_the_s.htm

  3. ENTITLEMENT - Bailing out the Bush/Cheney Home Loan Wall Street Bank Fraud cost consumers $ trillions, millions of jobs, loss of retirement plans and loss of medical insurance. Exactly like the Reagan/Bush home loan scam. Déjà vu can we say. Yep seems to be a pattern. http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2009/0709macewan.html

4.ENTITLEMENT - Bush/Cheney implied many financial institutions were at risk instead of only 3? One of the biggest lies perpetrated to American citizens. Where did this money go? Why were some banks forced to take bail out money? http://www.democracynow.org/2009/9/10/good_billions_after_bad_one_year

  1. Tax cuts = the ENTITLEMENT program for the wealthy which do nothing to make an economy strong or produce jobs. Tax cuts are a tax increase to others in order to make up the loss in revenue = duped again.

Still A Bad ENTITLEMENT Idea – Bush Tax Cuts aka The ENTITLEMENT program for the wealthy at the expense of the middle class = duped one more time. http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2001/0301miller.html

  1. In the end big debt and super duper bailouts were the results which does not seem to bother Republicans, as long as they are in power.

In fact, by the time the second Bush left office, the national debt had grown to $12.1 trillion:

  • ENTITLEMENT - Over half of that amount had been created by Bush’s tax cuts for the very wealthy.

  • ENTITLEMENT - Another 30% of the national debt had been created by the tax cuts for the wealthy under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

• ENTITLEMENT - Fully 81% of the national debt was created by just these three Republican Presidents. http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2010/0111orr.html

  1. ENTITLEMENT - Starting in 2003, George W. Bush destroyed the world economy by encouraging U.S. banks to make loans to those who could not afford them, through schemes such as the "American Dream Downpayment Initiative".

Once Bush's policies led to their inevitable result of economic collapse, the United States found itself in a situation where it had to take on debt in order to restore the economy.


*. Nixon’s Watergate

  • Reagan/Bush Iran Contra

The Republican Party of NO cost the USA too much money!

Flap Doodle 6 years, 2 months ago

Woo hoo! It's been at least a couple of days since you posted all this drivel.

Jay Keffer 6 years, 2 months ago

Do you seriously read anything Merrill posts? If he limited it to 2 original sentences or less, he might get some screen time. I'm guessing many folks here do an automatic 'page down' when they see is repetitive spam.

His posts are worth their weight in pixels.

If you need it, the conversion rate is:

5000 pixels = 1 unicorn

Paul R Getto 6 years, 2 months ago

ALEC is working behind the scenes for either state-by-state changes or a federal constitutional amendment that will let them go bankrupt. Then they can kiss all the employee pensions good by. Can you spell E-N-R-O-N, boys and girls? ALEC doesn't care about the gods, except for the mottos on money. Sam's cult works the other side of this with their union-busting businessman jesus. It's an interesting combination, mammon and a god -- which to support?

Calijhawk 6 years, 2 months ago


I live in California. We live everyday with the consequences of the over-indulgence of public sector unions, and the incestuous relationship between liberal politicians, and the union bosses.

There is a huge difference between public and private sector unions. In the private sector, one side represents the shareholders of the company, who supply the money, and the workers who supply the labor. They bargain, and hopefully come up with a contract they both can live with.

Public sector unions, once they get their hooks into democratic politicians with campaign money, buy off the process. Now those who bargain with the unions owe their positions to them. Those who supply the money (taxpayers) no longer have a seat at the table. It's like a newly unemployed father of a selfish bride who is expected to pick up the tab for all the extravagances of the wedding.

California is broke. No more money. This is what happens when liberal policies are allowed to operate unfettered for 20 years.

deec 6 years, 2 months ago

That's what happens when populations grow and revenue doesn't. Blame Prop 13, and the outmigration of good paying jobs to Asia.

kochmoney 6 years, 2 months ago

Did the public unions pass prop 13 in 1978? Holy cow! Public unions are way more powerful than I thought!

Katara 6 years, 2 months ago

That's funny. The same thing was said when Clinton was president.

Is it that difficult for the right wing to come up with some original things to say rather than reciting the same tired lines over and over again?

usnsnp 6 years, 2 months ago

What I found strange is this all government workers fault. It was the legislators that approved theis contracts, it was the legislators that under funded the retirement programs, there has not been many strikes by governments, in most situations it is illegal for government workers to strike. Have lived here in Kansas since 1981 and do not remember and government organization going on strike.

Katara 6 years, 2 months ago

It certainly it strange. If these public sectors unions are so powerless without the ability to strike as the argument has been put forth, then how is it they are able to strong-arm these legislators into to do everything they want?

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