June 6, 2018

A gift? You shouldn’t have!

By Deborah J. La Fetra Senior Attorney

Public employee unions and sympathetic legislatures in many states have combined to perpetuate union power. One way they do this is by getting government employers – like a school district – to pay union leaders to work for the union. They negotiate a contract that gives certain teachers “release time” – basically, excusing them from teaching classes so they can spend their days doing union work. In Jersey City, the teachers’ union president and vice president both are paid classroom teacher salaries and benefits while they spend every working hour to benefit the union.

Represented by our friends at the Goldwater Institute, two Jersey City taxpayers sued, arguing in Rozenblit v. Jersey City Education Association, that release time is a gift of public funds (taxpayer-paid salaries) to the teachers’ union, in violation of the state constitution’s Gift Clause. Unfortunately, the trial court disagreed on the theory that the union officials engaged in “peacemaking” activities (such as dealing with grievances) that justified the use of taxpayer funds. In a masterpiece of timing, shortly after the decision, teachers in this very same union walked out on an illegal strike. And this is the same union that sued to unseat the current school district superintendent. Peacemaking indeed!

Today, PLF filed an amicus brief on the appeal of this case, pointing out that the union only engages in peacemaking when it benefits the union—not the school district, not the public, and certainly not the students. Every single thing these union leaders do is for the benefit of the union; the school district has no control over their activities whatsoever. Although release time has been around for decades, courts need to take a close look at how these taxpayer dollars are being spent and enforce the taxpayer protections of the state constitution’s Gift Clause.

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