News Story

Flint Taxpayers Pay For Employees Doing Union Business, City Doesn’t Track How Much

In states like Michigan that permit public sector workers to unionize and engage in collective bargaining, some government employees also become officers in those unions. Michigan permits these union officer/public employees to use a specified amount of their hours on the job to do union work, rather than the job they were hired to do. This practice is called “union release time.”

For example, city of Flint employees who are also officers in the firefighters union (352 Local IAFF) are allowed to spend 16 hours a week doing union business. The city does not track the number of hours they use for this. Instead, it automatically assigns 16 hours of those employee’s weekly time on the job to the category of union work.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the city of Flint, asking for specifics on the work arrangements of city employees who use union release time.

The city of Flint responded that it does not track those details.

Whitney Brewton, human resource and labor relations manager for Flint, wrote in the FOIA response, “We do not track how much time people use union business, so these are numbers based on their contract, not what they use.”

It is not clear how much union release time costs state and local governments across the country or in Michigan. But federal government employees collect pay for around 3 million hours of union release time, costing taxpayers more than $170 million, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

CEI also says that unions see release time as helping offset financial losses they incurred after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus ruling that bars requirements that public sector employees pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment.

Charley McClendon, director of labor relations for Flint, and Melissa Brown, the city spokesperson, did not respond to a request for comment.

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.