August 14, 2015

Arizona constitution prohibits cities from forcing taxpayers to pay the salaries of union employees

By Deborah J. La Fetra Senior Attorney

The City of Phoenix and the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA), the police officers’ union, negotiated a contract whereby the city pays full salary and overtime for six full-time and 35 part-time employees who report to the union, and do the union’s work, including lobbying.  The union received $1.7 million, and the city received …. well, in a decision issued this week, the Arizona Court of Appeals held that the city did not receive any value at all.  As such, the $1.7 million was nothing more than a gift to the union, in violation of the Arizona Constitution’s Gift Clause, which prohibits using public money to subsidize a private organization.

Represented by the Goldwater Institute, Phoenix taxpayers William R. Cheatham and Marcus Huey had sued the city and PLEA.  PLF filed an amicus brief in the Arizona Court of Appeals, in support of the taxpayers, arguing that the “public purpose” requirement of the Gift Clause reflects the state constitution’s overall goals of fairness and accountability.  The court agreed with PLF that the city has no control over release time employees, whose loyalty and services are devoted to the union, not the taxpayers.  Taxpayer funding of workers who are, as a matter of economic reality, union employees, violates the state constitutional prohibition on using public funds to benefit private organizations.

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