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Michigan Republicans Go After Tax-Funded Union Work

Reuters/John Gress

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Fed up with taxpayer dollars being spent on union activities instead of education, Michigan Republicans have introduced a bill to end the common practice.

The policy, known as release time, allows state officials who also hold union leadership positions to engage in union related activities outside their normal jobs while still getting paid. The practice is common on the state and federal level, with some employees only doing union work instead of their primary duties.

Though release time happens across the board, Republican state Sen. Marty Knollenberg has introduced a bill to end the practice at public schools in the state.

“Each dollar these school districts spend on union lobbyists is a dollar taken from classrooms,” Knollenberg said in a statement. “The last thing parents and taxpayers should have to worry about is whether money is being siphoned out of classrooms to pay for lobbyists.”

The bill was first introduced in April. Last week it was approved by the committee on education and now waits to be voted on in the Senate. With the upcoming summer recess, however, there is a chance the bill may not see a vote until the fall. If approved, it will move to the state House.

Jarrett Skorup, a policy analyst at the Mackinac Center, argues the policy is causing a huge costly problem for the state. For education alone $2.7 million has been wasted on release time.

“It would just ban this,” Skorup told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Workers could take leave time but the union would have to pay for it.”

Local unions, however, are not too happy with the measure. They argue it will prevent them from doing important union activities.

“We see it as an anti-local control bill,” David Crim, a spokesman for the Michigan Education Association, told the Detroit Free Press. “It’s usurping the ability of local school districts and local education unions to bargain what they think is necessary for the efficient operation of their districts.”

“The main misinterpretation is people think it will limit unions from bargaining,” Skorup noted. “This certainly doesn’t stop them from bargaining, they just have to pay for it themselves.”
Knollenberg first tried to tackle the problem when he was a member in the state House after he learned that 25 of the 28 school districts in Oakland County had either a full-time or part-time employee on release time. The original bill failed but now as a state senator, Knollenberg hopes it will be successful a second time.

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