Two Phoenix employees are suing the city over union-related practices they say violate their First Amendment rights, according to a lawsuit filed this week.
The Goldwater Institute, a conservative legal advocacy organization, filed a lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of city employees Mark Gilmore and Mark Harder in Maricopa County Superior Court.
The lawsuit alleges that a city agreement directing employee compensation to the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union (AFSCME) without the employees’ approval violates the U.S. Constitution and Arizona law. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and City Manager Ed Zuercher are listed as defendants in the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs challenge the practice of “release time,” which is negotiated into contracts and allows for a public employee to be paid with public funds to do union work. The union work includes political activities such as campaigning, lobbying, recruiting new union members, and filing complaints with the city, the lawsuit alleges.
Under the city’s current agreement with AFSCME Local 2384, there are four full-time release positions paid for by the city, which requires 448 hours of guaranteed compensation each year.
Both Gilmore and Harder aren’t union members but don’t want their employee compensation going toward paying for union activities.
“Release time is funded by all employees of a particular bargaining unit, and as a result, non-union members are being forced to fund the salaries of release time employees,” the lawsuit says.
The plaintiffs cite the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Janus v. AFSCME that said requiring non-member individuals to pay union fees for activities they might not agree with violates the First Amendment's rights to freedom of speech and association.
AFSCME Local 2384 did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publishing.