January 29, 2021

Firefighters getting paid not to fight fires, or teachers getting paid not to teach: It sounds like fiction, but it’s sadly real. In places across the country, government workers are receiving their full salary and benefits to work for their private unions—engaging in political activities, lobbying, and recruiting new union members—rather than to do the jobs they were actually hired to do. And taxpayers are paying for it.

Not only is this practice—known as release time—a pervasive problem, but we don’t even know how big a problem it actually is. This week, Goldwater Institute National Investigative Reporter Mark Flatten and Director of National Litigation Jon Riches discussed the issue of release time in a virtual webinar hosted by Goldwater Director of Communications Mike Brownfield, talking about what release time is, what its impact is on communities and taxpayers, and what can be done to stop this unfair and unconstitutional practice.

During the teleforum, Flatten discussed some of the findings he uncovered in a recently released multi-part series about release time. He surveyed 150 jurisdictions across America—three from every state—to try to get a comprehensive understanding of how widespread release time is in America. While more than 400,000 hours of paid release time annually can be documented, that number is likely far bigger: Of the 150 agencies Flatten surveyed, only 82 were able to produce data on the number of hours they allowed in release time. Many jurisdictions simply can’t be bothered to track this important data—and that keeps taxpayers from holding them accountable.

The Goldwater Institute has been at the forefront of the fight against release time, and Riches has been litigating Goldwater lawsuits against release time in Arizona, Texas, and New Jersey. The co-author of a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed about Goldwater’s fight against release time in New Jersey, Riches talked about Goldwater’s efforts to end the practice through litigation. He also explained during the teleforum that release time not only expands the power of unions, but it also expands the scope of government itself.

What’s next for release time? Unfortunately, look for the practice to keep growing: Just days ago, President Joe Biden signed an executive order allowing top officials at federal employee unions to work full-time for their unions while on the taxpayers’ payroll. At Goldwater, we’ll be continuing to pursue litigation and legislative solutions to put a stop to release time and protect taxpayers’ rights.

You can watch the full teleforum above.

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