James Sherk and Nate Bohlander describe the case of the “missing” teacher. Missing from the classroom, that is, as this teacher currently takes care of union business full time but will enjoy all of the perks of a Pennsylvania teacher courtesy of the Pennsylvania taxpayer. This practice, known as “official” or “release” time, and is paid for by the taxpayer just as if the teacher actually is teaching in a school. Check out the story on philly.com.
In 1976, Jerry Jordan began his career teaching Spanish in Philadelphia public schools. A decade later, Jordan left the classroom to work full time for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. He is now the union’s president, negotiating with public officials for union members’ wages and benefits – but there’s one big problem.
Nearly 30 years after Jordan graded his last test, Philadelphia taxpayers are still covering part of his compensation.
How is this possible?
A union practice known as “release time” or “official time” enables Jordan to tap the public payroll to staff his private political organization – and he’s far from the only one. Union contracts typically include provisos allowing government employees to work for their union while on the clock and on the public dime.
Taxpayers, often oblivious to these backroom deals, foot the bill for government union operations across the country.
Philadelphia is a great case study: The labor contract between the School District of Philadelphia and the PFT allows up to 63 school employees to leave the classroom and work full time for the union. While essentially cutting class, these employees also receive free health benefits, rack up generous pensions, and accrue teaching seniority that benefits them at the expense of teachers who remain in the classroom.
The PFT is currently reimbursing the district for most of its salary and benefit costs, but these voluntary repayments could end at any time. There’s no contractual requirement that the union pay back the district and property taxpayers for the costs of doing union work. There’s also no record that the state is being reimbursed for its portion of these employees’ pensions – costing Pennsylvania taxpayers about $1 million since 1999.
At the federal level, lawmakers have introduced four major bills to reform release time. These proposals will undoubtedly draw fierce opposition from Big Labor leaders, who seek to maintain the special treatment that gives them a political advantage over the taxpayers paying their salaries.
If these legal and legislative challenges are successful, future collective-bargaining agreements will require public employees to work exclusively for the public. There’s no reason to give government unions special deals that would land any other political organization under investigation.