April 12, 2016

Arizona Supreme Court to decide if taxpayers must 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. This is called “release time.” The union benefitted to the tune of $1.7 million, and, according to the Arizona Court of Appeals in a lawsuit brought by Phoenix taxpayers, the city did not benefit at all. As such, the $1.7 million in release time was struck down as a gift to the union, in violation of the Arizona Constitution’s Gift Clause, which prohibits using public money to subsidize a private organization.

PLEA asked the Arizona Supreme Court to review the decision in Cheatham v. DiCiccio and the court agreed to do so. Because the plaintiffs, William R. Cheatham and Marcus Huey are represented by attorneys with the Goldwater Institute, now-Justice Clint Bolick is recused from the current proceedings. Today, PLF filed an amicus brief 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. Moreover, the Court of Appeals correctly held that the union’s lack of obligation to the city in exchange for the release time meant that the release time violated the Gift Clause. As the lower court noted, the city has no control over release time employees, whose loyalty and services are devoted to the union, not the taxpayers.

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