‘Release time’ will backfire against teachers’ unions

Although both state law and the New Jersey Constitution prohibit paying government workers not to perform the jobs they were hired for, and instead work full-time for labor unions, The Jersey City Board of Education entered into an agreement with its teachers’ union allowing just that (“The N.J. Teachers Who Get Paid Not to Teach,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 4).  The New Jersey Supreme Court will soon rule on the issue.

Whatever the outcome, I don’t think teachers’ unions that do this realize how harmful the practice is in terms of taxpayer support.  As readers of this column know, I support teachers’ unions, having participated in three strikes during the 28 years I taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District.  But release time is outrageous and will only alienate taxpayers on the fence about teachers’ unions.

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2 Replies to “‘Release time’ will backfire against teachers’ unions”

  1. It’s possible that NJ state law and/or state constitution prohibit release time, but I’d be surprised if that’s actually the case. My guess is that the law/constitution prohibit govt payments for private purposes but do not make clear that union release time is for private purposes.

    An analogy — NJ govt employees are all eligible for paid annual leave. When a NJ govt employee takes a day of annual leave and goes to the beach instead of going to work, the govt is not getting any benefit from the employee going to the beach yet the govt is paying the employee for that time. Does that annual leave pay violate state law? If not, how to distinguish between paying govt employees for time they spend at the beach and paying govt employees for time they spend working for the union administering the collective bargaining agreement covering the NJ employees?

    More fundamentally, the theory underlying the laws creating collective bargaining in the US is that collective bargaining between unions and employers is the most productive way to resolve the inherent conflicts between management and labor — that is, w/o collective bargaining, capitalism’s potential excesses are more likely to come to pass with too many employees becoming so exploited that they turn to industrial violence and/or political revolution. Pursuant to this theory, union release time is appropriate because it enables union officials to more effectively administer the collective bargaining agreement and more effectively bargain with the employer. If collective bargaining breaks down, that increases the likelihood of industrial violence and/or political revolution.

    Now, given the fact that unions have pretty much disappeared in today’s US economy (with the exception of govt unions, most of which lack strike authority), one can argue reasonably that the above theory no longer applies — that is, that we can pretty much eliminate unions and collective bargaining w/o fear of industrial violence and/or political revolution. But, if we are going to continue to have unions and collective bargaining, we should continue to allow union release time.

    And, given the ever-increasing and widely-discussed economic inequality in the US (the rich get richer and the very poor get increased govt benefits while the middle/working-class see their wages/salaries stagnate), we should be slow to discard unions as no longer necessary to long-term political stability.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: The entire issue may come down to how taxpayers view released time rather than what the law says. Many critics of teachers’ unions point to their excessive demands, which they blame for all the ills afflicting schools. So it really doesn’t matter what the law says in changing public opinion.

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