AUSTIN (KXAN) — Your tax dollars are being used to allow the Austin Fire Department’s union to lobby politically. That’s the charge from the Texas attorney general who has formally joined a lawsuit contesting the constitutionality of paid union time for fire union officials.
Ken Paxton’s legal team contends allowing so-called release time for fire union bosses to negotiate their collective agreements is a practice that amounts to an unlawful transfer of taxpayer money for the union’s private business. So Tuesday, Paxton intervened in a lawsuit against the city of Austin, challenging Austin’s union agreement with the local Firefighters Association.
Currently, there are only three full-time firefighters who are paid under the agreement. They handle union business.
“The city of Austin has abused its taxing power and with it the public trust,” Attorney General Paxton said in a statement. “The city is siphoning money that should go to vital emergency services and redirecting it towards a labor union’s political activity. It is a basic tenet of democratic government that tax money be oriented towards a common good. An agreement that enriches a private organization at the cost of Austin residents’ health and safety cannot be allowed to stand.”
AFA 975 President Bob Nicks tells KXAN News he considers Paxton’s legal challenge part of a “broader, state-wide union busting move.” Nicks says the AFA’s national legal team believes the case has no merit. He says a similar case brought in Arizona was thrown out by that state’s Supreme Court.
Police union leaders in Austin have a slightly different way of making sure union work gets done using an association business leave component of their contract. That means officers contribute 6 percent of their vacation leave into a pool that union executives can use for association-related work, says APA President Ken Casaday.
An EMS union spokesperson says he is the only one who can be reassigned as long as the union contract-related activity (hiring, promotions, investigations) is part of a scheduled shift.
“Many hours are volunteered,” says Tony Marquardt, as long as meetings “are approved by management without a significant impact on the EMS schedule.”
Last legislative session in Texas, a senate bill passed that called for banning union dues being taken directly from employees’ paychecks. A companion bill stalled in the state house preventing the measure from becoming law.