Austin Residents Sue Over Time Off for Union Business

Two Austin residents have filed suit against the city and Austin Firefighters IAFF Local 975 claiming that provisions in the collective bargaining agreement that allow union officials paid time-off for union business violate the Texas Constitution.

Mark Pulliam and Jay Wiley filed the action in Travis County District Court, with the support of two watchdog groups, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Goldwater Institute. They claim that provisions in the collective bargaining agreement that allows union officials to take paid time-off to attend to union business violates the “gift clause” provision in the state constitution.

As explained in the complaint:

  • Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the collective bargaining agreement between Austin and the Firefighters Association constitutes an unlawful transfer of taxpayer funds to a private entity in violation of the “gift clause” provision of Article III, §§50, 51, 52(a), and Article XVI, § 6(a) of the Constitution of the State of Texas.
  • The City of Austin is engaged in a taxpayer-funded practice that diverts firefighters away from some of the most crucial services Austin provides, and instead places them under the direction and control of a private labor organization for its own use and benefit.
  • No significant limit, control, or accountability is placed on the union’s use of these public safety resources. Indeed, not only do the majority of release time activities not advance a public purpose, they are often directly opposed to the interests of Austin and Austin taxpayers.
  • For this public expenditure, Austin does not receive adequate consideration.
  • The cost to taxpayers of these subsidies is in the millions of dollars.

Attorney Robert Henneke, who represents Pulliam and Wiley, claims “The city pays up to 5,000 hours a year for city employees to be working for the union.” Henneke is the General Counsel and Director of the Center for American Future for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Pulliam-v-Austin

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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