Taxpayers Pay Twice for Union 'Release Time'

Senate GOP waters down bill, favors select unions

Taxpayers in scores of Michigan communities may not realize it, but when they send in their winter and summer property tax payments, some of their money is extracted to pay union bosses not for their assigned job duties, but for time spent on union business. That’s because their school board members, mayors and city councils have signed union labor contracts that require taxpayers to compensate union stewards to do union work on government time.

The good news is that the Michigan House has passed a bill that would ban the practice. The bad news is, a Senate committee watered it down considerably by making exceptions for public safety and corrections union bosses. Apparently local police and fire departments are so well funded they can afford to hand over a few dollars more to the union instead of using those tax dollars for their intended purposes.

Michigan taxpayers are not alone in suffering these “union dues.” Earlier this year, national columnist George Will documented other examples, such as in Phoenix, where taxpayers picked up the bill for 73,000 hours of this so-called “release time” at a annual cost of $3.7 million. Some $900,000 of that is delivered to police union bosses; six of them got not only full pay and benefits, but 160 hours each in overtime pay for their union work.

In Michigan, local school districts hand over at least $2.7 million to union stewards on the payroll, in some cases granting six-figure salaries for them to work against the interests of taxpayers. Taxpayers actually pay twice for these abuses — once for the person they’re compensating to do union business, and again for the worker paid to replace the union guy or gal on the front lines.

The practice has nothing to do with educating students or making streets safer. It amounts to nothing less than a taxpayer-funded political payoff to an already powerful special interest — government employee unions.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.