Good Work If You Can Get It; New Jersey Investigates Union Work Done Under Public Pay


A new report from the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation reveals widespread abuse of the state's public pay/union work law, passed in 2006. While the law requires public sector unions to reimburse employers when union workers are pulled for union business, it also provides a huge loophole that allows local and state government entities to make other arrangements with union officials. From the report:

The commission… found a range of instances in which… [public-sector labor union representatives] receive full- or part-time paid leave from government jobs to conduct union business at taxpayer expense… [T]he Commission found significant and questionable variations in how such leave is authorized, who qualifies for it, who keeps track of it, how it is constituted and who ultimately pays the bill. In many instances, costs associated with compensation and medical benefits for union officials on leave are borne by the labor organizations they represent. This was found to be the case even where the union personnel in question regularly engage in collective bargaining with their government employers – activity which can place them in conflict with the public interest…

[T]he Commission found examples in which all or a portion of the salaries of such individuals – some in the six-figure range – and/or health benefits and pension contributions are covered by public funds with no reimbursement by union organizations. Some union officials have been on paid leave for years or even decades while occupying government job titles but doing no government work.

The idea that public sector unions' interests differ from the public interest shouldn't be anything new, but it kind of is. The NJ Commission of Investigation also noted what these widely varying standards on public pay for union work cost. Between 2006 and 2011, "government-paid union leave for public employees within the scope of this investigation cost taxpayers more than $30 million in salaries and medical benefits," according to the Commission.

The Commission also warns about the lack of public transparency in these arrangements. Often, they're not included within the body of the collective bargaining agreements that govern the relationship between the public sector union and the government. Cops, for example, may work on union activities under the pretense of "flex time" or "day tour of duty." One school board didn't even know their teachers' union President was on full-time paid leave until Commission investigators informed them. In some towns, "local custom" governs when a union representative can get generous paid leave, with no paper trail providing easy access to the information.t

Finally, the Commission also provided specific instances in which paid-leave was abused to taxpayer detriment. Here are a few:

  • In Camden, three police officers and three firefighters have been on full-time union leave for the last five years at a cost so far of $2.3 million in salaries and medical benefits.
  • In Bayonne, one teachers union representative is on full-time union leave despite the collective bargaining agreement itself requiring that teacher to teach three classes a day.
  • In Newark, New Jersey's largest city, while school district employees conducting full-time union business are paid for by the unions, the police (surprised?) have a better deal. Four cops and five firefighters were on full-time union leave at a cost of nearly $8 million in a five year period. The collective bargaining also requires the cash-strapped city to provide the police union representatives with a city car and a paid gas card. (Newark actually liberally provides city cars and gas cards to its employees)
  • A Paterson city official told the commission none of its city employees were on full-time union leave. When the Commission requested written confirmation, the same city official found a police officer on full-time union leave. Moreover, the collective bargaining agreement required the police union representative to hold the title of Detective. The current union representative was a motorcycle patrolman when he was elected last summer, yielding him a promotion to Detective when he took the union rep position.

More from Reason on public sector unions here