Ted Simons: A recent court injunction stops Phoenix police officers from doing union work while on the job. Phoenix law enforcement association says it will fight the injunction issued after a lawsuit filed by the Goldwater Institute. Joining us is Clint Bolick, lead attorney for the institute, Mark Spencer, Southwest Coordinator for Judicial Watch, formerly with the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association.
Both: Good to be with you.
Ted Simons: What does relief time mean?
Clint Bolick: This is when full-time city employees are released from what they were hired to do in this case patrolling the streets and allowed to do union work full-time. This goes on not just in the police department but in throughout the city of Phoenix and in most cities across Arizona.
Ted Simons: How do you define release time?
Mark Spencer: It's a benefit that is purchased by Phoenix police officers. In other words, the city manager comes to the table says I want you to do a job. Run the gunfights. Those police officers say we'll run the gunfights but you need to pay us, so the city manager provides a $330 million total comp packages, wages, insurance, vacation, sick leave, then .005 or one half percent of that total package they pay for those police officers buy through reduced wages six full-time release positions to make sure they have representation.
Ted Simons: Sounds like it's negotiated in a labor contract.
Clint Bolick: Oh, it certainly is. But unfortunately, what is being done is the mission of the Phoenix police department and other departments in Phoenix is being diverted toward union activities. These officers and Mark was one of them report to union headquarters, they lobby in some instances against the city's own position, they collect guaranteed overtime, they qualify for the same pensions as police officers who risk their jobs every day. This is a gift to the police union and to other unions and that's exactly what the judge found.
Ted Simons: Does this union work include lobbying, political activism, these sorts of things?
Mark Spencer: Absolutely it does. You don't have Phoenix police officers' best interests in mind. It's not your job. The Goldwater Institute doesn't have their best interests in mind. So who has their best interest in mind? They’re willing to take $322 less per officer per year to make sure they have access to 24/7 representation. That's crucial.
Clint Bolick: Ted, in the private sector union members would be paying for this out of their own pockets. They're not here. I would love to see police officers get that $322 and figure out what to do with it. Guess what? They wouldn't be buying a diversion of police officers to sit at union desks instead of doing their jobs. That's what they are afraid of.
Mark Spencer: It's clearly not a gift. Police officers agree to run the gunfights for a total comp package. One half of 1% of that total compensation which equals about $22 per officer is used to purchase those release positions. It's clearly not -- what's happening here is we're using the courts to push a political agenda. We don't like the way police officers spend their money. So we're going to tell them you can spend it on health insurance and dental insurance and life insurance but when it comes to job insurance you're not going to spend it.
Ted Simons: Quickly, I hear the argument it's employee money. It's not additional --
Clint Bolick: It's not employee money. It's money that could be used to hire more police officers. We have had a hiring freeze for several years. Just how many officers could we hire for that additional million dollars? This money is being used against the city's interests when we buy health insurance it promotes the city's interests. Just this last year the police union solicited 100 grievances against the city while being paid by the taxpayers to do that to challenge the police uniform policy. That is something that should be paid by union dues, not with taxpayer money.
Ted Simons: Why not pay for this if it comes out of salaries, employee money, why not use union dues for this?
Mark Spencer: Why would you use taxpayer money when you have access to officers who are willing to take reduced wage, even in a ruling she makes the comment with 2,600 police officers release time would cost each police officer $322. So what happened here now is a judge came in with a gavel and a robe and said injunction, I'm going to take that time from you. Those officers paid for that $322 in released wages. If you do that with a stocking cap and a gun that's called robbery. Make these officers whole if you're going to take that $322 away from them. They are still running the gunfights and not getting their compensation.
Ted Simons: How do you respond to that?
Clint Bolick: I respond by saying if there's robbery going on here it's the union robbing the taxpayers. That's exactly how the judge saw it. Our gift clause prohibits gifts to private entities like unions. Here she looked at the contract and she said, what are the taxpayers getting in return for this money that we're giving to the union? And the answer was absolutely nothing except for a bunch of headaches.
Ted Simons: What are the taxpayers getting in return?
Mark Spencer: That's a good question. You have an asset, a unique investment called a police officer. Could be a $1 million asset. You have intensive training. To expose that asset, that unique investment to flip an accusation, the police department hires 30 investigators and supervisors to investigate misconduct against Phoenix police officers. Who defends them? Taxpayers go out of their way, rightfully so, to make sure a child molester has a public defender. Police officers go out of their way out of their own pockets to make sure police officers have representation --
Clint Bolick: Actually, Ted, two police officers are on standby hours a day to handle those kinds of complaints. That is not affected at all by this injunction. What is affected is the sort of stuff Mark did before he went on retirement and on pension. He was lobbying full-time, not for the city, but for the union, but the taxpayers were paying him to do that. They didn't hire Mark to lobby. They hired him to patrol the streets.
Ted Simons: Does some of this activity, though, include grievance matters, disciplinary matters, training, task forces -- Maybe lobbying is included in the mix but are there not other things --
Clint Bolick: Sure. What the city did this year was came back and said let's try to fix this problem. Let's list the things that they are going to do for the city like training and that sort of thing. We'll pay for that, but the lobbying, you guys are to pay for. The political activities, grievances you have to pay for. Guess what police said to that. They said we will quote “torch this place” if that change is made. That's the attitude we see. By the way, the union negotiators negotiating that contract are paid with taxpayer dollars.
Ted Simons: What about that change? What's wrong with that idea for change?
Mark Spencer: I think what's important is, and here's what's alarming from a conservative point of view is when we try to pursue legislation from the bench. I can't get the voters to change their minds says Goldwater, I can't get elected officials to change their minds says Goldwater, so I'll get a judge to legislate from the bench and change the contract at the expense of $322, it was her ruling to the officers. I had a police chief tell us you keep your boys on a leash. The chief's job isn't to have police officers' best interests in mind. It's to run the police department. So due process is something that police officers are willing to pay for out of their own pockets.
Ted Simons: I kind of want to get back to what you just said. People elect their lawmakers to -- we had a similar conversation regarding Glendale. You elect city council and the mayors to do the city's work. They believe these kinds of contracts do the city's work. Why is the Goldwater Institute getting involved?
Clint Bolick: What's the first thing an elected official does before he or she starts enacting legislation? They take an oath to the constitution. The constitution is above any kind of law and certainly above any kind of contract. So you go to court to protect constitutional rights. We do it over and over again. In this instance the judge said, this contract exceeds the constitutional authority of this city.
Ted Simons: The judge also said that this place is public funds at the disposal of the unions, the mission is the safety of the community and this does not advance a public purpose. Is the judge wrong here?
Mark Spencer: Clearly wrong. Does it advance public purpose? Does that release time advance public purpose? Does vacation time advance a public purpose? Does sick leave advance public purpose? Does dental insurance? I take my kids to Disneyland for a week. Does that advance public purpose? We want our officers healthy, we want them to have access to life insurance but we don't want our officers to have access to representation? They don't like the way police officers are spending their money, so they want to change it to an injunction.
Clint Bolick: One of the things that union folks did this year on union time, the police chief asked some of them to wear taser cams on their helmets. The union put out a notice saying don't obey the chief. If he forces you to do it we'll file a grievance. They threatened to follow the police chief to see if he was talking to other unions about the uniform issue. Are these advancing the public purpose? Absolutely not. Are they legitimate functions of a union? Yes, but the union should be paid with union dues, not taxpayer money.
Ted Simons: Back to Mark's point regarding vacation time, sick time, other things that are negotiated into contracts, does the Goldwater Institute are you going to start getting involved if someone looks like they are taking too much vacation time?
Clint Bolick: Of course not. What the constitution forbids is making public funds available to a third party. The city object if officers were placed suddenly at the disposal of McDonald's? Of course they would. That's exactly what's happening here. PLEA is an independent entity, a labor union with its own interests. A lot of the police officers are not even members yet they are paying for this stuff.
Ted Simons: Sounds like the argument is tax declares are being used to promote union interests. Is that accurate, A, and B, how do you respond?
Mark Spencer: Bottom line she says in her own ruling each officer pays $322 less in wages to acquire this .005 -- that's one half of a percentage of that total compensation, 1.7 million out of a $330 million contract. Health insurance, Cigna is a third party provider but we contract with them. These officers knowingly work in a volatile environment. Everybody loves a firefighter but when the police officer comes to your house normally a law has been broken and there's a victim. It's easy to generate false allegations. So you have that asset investigated. Why is due process less important than a vacation or sick leave?
Ted Simons: Last question. Critics say the Goldwater Institute is basically union bashing. You're not saving taxpayer money. It's a ruse, just another way to go after the unions.
Clint Bolick: Public employee unions around the country are bankrupting cities and states. The excesses have gone on for too long. The unions should do what they feel is in the best interests of their members but should do so with their own resources, not taxpayer dollars.
Ted Simons: we have to stop it there. Great discussion.
Clint Bolick: Sorry we couldn't disagree more.
Ted Simons: You did well enough. Thanks for joining us.