REPORT: Legality Raised On Multimillion Dollar Public Union Practice

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A multimillion dollar practice in Fairfax County, Va. which allows public employees to do union work instead of their actual jobs may be illegal, according to a report Tuesday.

The report is based on documents obtained by the Center on National Labor Policy. A policy known as release time in the states allows public employees to get paid doing union work instead of their jobs. It cost the county $5.8 million just to hire substitutes for teachers participating in the practice. Beyond the cost, having the policy implemented in Fairfax may actually run contrary to what the state law allows.

“For the state of Virginia to have a government-paid union time to lobby state and local officials is shocking considering public sector collective bargaining is illegal,” the report noted. “Yet by establishing these rules of organizational leave, the school and County boards are providing labor unions with essentially a security clause, which are often found in a union contract.”

The state law details that no state, county, municipal, or public official has any authority to recognize a labor union or other employee association as a bargaining agent. The state also has a no gift clause policy meaning no state agency or subdivision can contribute to a private organization unless it is clear there will be a direct benefit to the state.

“Having Virginia taxpayers pay the operating costs of labor unions is outrageous and there is no reasonable argument that can be made to force taxpayers to pay for labor personnel,” the report also stated. “This is clear political payback needs to end immediately.”

There are few limits on how much county workers can use release time. The 10 designated unions are allowed 240 taxpayer-funded hours each of political lobbying with an additional 240 hours each for conventions, training and meetings. Additionally, the school system does not have a fixed limit on hours and the unions are also allowed unlimited release time for activities such as processing grievance complaints.

The policy is also very costly. The $5.8 million for substitutes doesn’t count the cost for school administrations not needing a substitute as well as all the other county workers that use release time.

The practice exists in federal agencies as well. There it is known as official time. According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, on the national level the policy has cost the federal government at least $1 billion between 1998 and 2013.

Rather than the county or some other external review, it is solely up to the very unions that benefit from the policy to track the hours. This despite regulations compelling the county to audit the time spent on release time.

Fairfax County employees that work for the police, library, park authority, sheriff office and town hall have all used release time. The designated unions include the Fairfax Coalition of Police Local 5000, AFSCME and Fairfax County Government Employees Union among others.

The 10 designated unions and Fairfax County did not respond to requests for comment from TheDCNF.

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