A report released this morning shows that New Jersey taxpayers spend millions each year so public employees -- cops, firefighters, teachers -- can take leave from their public jobs and do union business.
Once Gov. Christie reads the report, if he hasn't already, he is likely to add these tidbits into the rhetorical arsenal he aims at public employee unions.
In Camden, $2.3 million has been spent over the past five years to pay the salaries and benefits for three cops and three firefighters who do full-time union business (not policing or firefighting), according to the report from the independent State Commission of Investigation. In the Camden schools, the report found that the district is reimbursed by the teachers' union for a union official's salary -- but such reimbursement payments have not always been made.
We're working on getting responses from all of the Camden unions, but in an initial interview the Camden police union president says there are only two, not three, government-paid union officials in the city.
Statewide some union officials have been on paid leave for decades while "occupying government job titles but doing no government work," according to the SCI. Contracts -- and in some cases, unofficial agreements -- allow some union officials to get a salary, health coverage and additional benefits like perfect-attendance stipends, overtime, cars, office space and computers.
The report said: "Although it is not uncommon, nor it is necessarily improper, for government employers to grant some form of time-off for union work, the 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."
The state's largest teachers' union, the New Jersey Education Association, released a statement in response saying that the report indicates that these “work release arrangements” are “legal and commonplace,” and had been negotiated by school employees before being ratified by school boards.
NJEA President Barbara Keshishian said: “Providing negotiated release time for the purpose of conducting union business saves both time and money in districts and provides for a better school environment for all concerned…. The fact that the release of this report comes in the midst of a sustained attack on public education and public sector unions in New Jersey is a remarkable coincidence.”
The investigation looked at more than 120 school districts, 17 municipalities, all 21 counties and 12 departments of state government. In that slice of public sector, between 2006 and 2011, government-paid leave for public employees cost taxpayers more than $30 million.