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Arizona bill would ban all union work on city dime

A legal battle between the city of Phoenix and the Goldwater Institute over police officers who get paid to conduct union work has spilled over into the Arizona Legislature.

The Senate Committee on Government and Environment approved an amendment to House Bill 2418 on Monday that strikes the entire bill and replaces it with language banning all Arizona cities and towns from paying public employees when they conduct union duties.

Phoenix agreed to stop paying employees for time spent performing union work after a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled in January that “release time” violates the Arizona Constitution and doesn’t benefit the public.

Judge Katherine Cooper also said her ruling applies to any other contracts the city has with its unions, and blocked the practice in future contracts.

Cooper found that the contract between Phoenix and the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association allowed officers on release time to do work without supervision that was counter to the city’s interests.

The Phoenix City Council later approved amendments to agreements with two union groups that would grant employees extra vacation hours to be used for union duties. The amended agreements do not allow employees to lobby, organize or attend grievance or disciplinary hearings in their union representative capacity on public time, and instead require they use the bank of extra vacation time to do so.

Goldwater sought and won a temporary injunction against those amended agreements, saying they were a way to skirt the initial injunction. But the temporary injunction was later lifted.

The battle continues in court.

“It seems like a pretty overwhelming consensus is that the city is trying to find a way around the law,” said Victor Riches, the Goldwater Institute’s vice president of external affairs. “I would feel that the vast majority of taxpayers don’t think that their tax dollars are supposed to be used for performing union work.”

Opponents say the bill goes beyond what the county judge ruled and that union work does benefit tax payers.

“Dispute resolution saves the taxpayers a tremendous amount of money,” said attorney Mike Napier, who represents the Phoenix police union. “We believe that the activities listed under union activities do serve a public purpose and we think it serves the taxpayers money in terms of dispute resolution.”

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