We found the Supreme Court's 4-4 ruling in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association last spring disappointing. It allowed public employee union to continue to collect mandatory dues from people who have refused to join a union and in general don't support causes on which the dues are spent. The ruling likely would have gone the other way if Justice Antonin Scalia had not died.

Now there is another legal challenge to a another arrangement by which public unions enjoy the use of other people's money that isn't willingly given. It seems that in many states the taxpayer is on the hook for the salaries of union officials who take "release time" to engage in other activities while being paid their full salaries.

Writing in City Journal, Mark Pulliam explains how unsuspecting taxpayers end up paying public-employee union officials to do union business:

So-called “release time” or “association business leave,” a common provision in public-employee union contracts, allows government workers—who are also union officers—to receive their full salaries at taxpayer expense, even if they exclusively perform union business. Release time costs state, local, and federal taxpayers more than $100 million annually. Taxpayers nationwide have begun challenging this subsidy, contending that it constitutes an unconstitutional “gift” of public funds.

Unlike Friedrichs, which alleged a violation of the Constitution, current litigation relies on state constitutions, the interpretation of which doesn’t rest on federal precedent, and thus is not dependent on the composition of the High Court. State courts are the final arbiters of their own constitutions, a fact that liberal activists have—ironically—exploited in the past to achieve policy goals not possible under the U.S. Constitution.

Most state constitutions—47 out of 50, according to one expert—bar “gifts” of taxpayer funds yielding no public benefit. Texas’s constitution prohibits the grant of public funds to private parties except for a legitimate public purpose, a “clear” public benefit, and with adequate contractual controls. Yet, despite a 1979 ruling by the state attorney general that “release time” constitutes an illegal gift of taxpayer funds, some local governments in Texas grant such subsidies in public-employee union contracts, at an annual cost to taxpayers approaching $1 million.

. . .

What exactly are union officers allowed to do on the taxpayers’ nickel while on “release time”? Under the current union contract, the officers of AFA Local 975 can participate in negotiations, adjust grievances, attend dispute-resolution proceedings, attend union conferences and meetings, and even engage in partisan political activities related to “wages, rates of pay, hours of employment, or conditions of work” affecting members of the union. In other words, city officials have empowered officers of AFA Local 975 to lobby against the interests of the taxpayers—while being paid by the taxpayers.

Pulliam is a plaintiff in a case aimed at ending the practice of taxpayer-funded "release time."

He argues that the taxpayer-funded "release time" is almost a direct subsidy to union activity.

Union membership, except in the public-sector unions, has declined drastically over the last decades.

The public-sector unions remain powerful and have so far had the clout to force mandated financial support from people who disagree with them on the issues.