Tuesday, January 17, 2017

City of Austin forced to defend subsidies for Union Activity

"Treasures of wickedness profit nothing,
But righteousness delivers from death."
Proverbs 10:2

"Associated Business Leave" is a practice that allows union members to pursue union business on their employer's dime.  The City of Austin's current collective bargaining agreement with the Austin Firefighters Association (ie. the Firefighters Union) permits this activity.  Last September, two local activists with assistance from TPPF (later joined by Attorney General Paxton's office) sued to end this practice based on the argument that it violates the Texas Constitution.

This afternoon, we attended a in Travis County District Court (yeah, we know, but you've got to start somewhere) on a motion by the firefighters union and the city to dismiss the case.

The plaintiffs argue this channels taxpayer resources into a private entity.  To use simpler language, its a subsidy.  This violates the 'gift clause' of the Texas constitution.

The head of the firefighters union testified that, as a current firefighter, he receives a salary from the city of Austin instead of being paid from union dues.  Despite being paid by taxpayers, most of the time he works out of the union offices.  Furthermore, he testified that approximately 30% of his time is spent in direct lobbying activity, although there's no specific record of how he spends his time.

The city and union countered by arguing that striking the "associated business leave" provision would threaten the freedom of association of union members.  But nobody is objecting to the union engaging in typical union activity, they're objecting to subsidizing it.  If the relevant provision were struck, the union would still be able to engage in all of the activity in which they're currently engaged, they'd just have to pay for it out of member dues.

To be honest, we found the city/union argument in favor of the subsidy to be incoherent.  Apparently, there's a 'public interest' exception to the gift clause and the city/union argued that there was a public interest in "avoiding labor strife."  To put it mildly, this argument seems to be a loophole through which you could drive a Mack truck.

Bottom Line: The judge will rule on the motion by February 16...but it's Travis County.  Assuming what everyone knows will happen materializes, the Third Court of Appeals will then correct the Travis County District Judge and return the case back to the local level for a trial on the merits.  This could take awhile.

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