AUSTIN (Legal Newsline) — Attorney General Ken Paxton has announced a lawsuit against the city of Austin over firefighters who allegedly engaged in union activities at taxpayer expense, but a law professor from the University of Texas in Austin is skeptical of the allegation.
Emeritus professor Julius Getman, who used to represent the Connecticut State Police as an attorney, said the jobs of those in emergency and law enforcement professions are usually filled by individuals with great integrity. He said it is unlikely the attorney general would have such a degree of knowledge of the city's firefighters' activities.
"From where does he get his info?," Getman said in a telephone interview. "How does he possibly know?"
Paxton challenged Austin's labor agreement with Austin Firefighters Association, Local 975, saying there were at least three employees who engaged in "nothing but" union activities, which violates Texas state law. Texas, traditionally a non-union state, forbids public moneys to be used for labor union purposes.
Paxton alleges the contract's "release time" provision allows for the employees to work during their downtime for the union.
“The city of Austin has abused its taxing power and with it the public trust,” Paxton said in a news release. “The city is siphoning money that should go to vital emergency services and redirecting it toward a labor union’s political activity. It is a basic tenet of democratic government that tax money be oriented toward a common good. An agreement that enriches a private organization at the cost of Austin residents’ health and safety cannot be allowed to stand.”
Getman said his experience with fire and police personnel paints a different picture of who these individuals are as opposed to the one painted by Paxton.
"Most politicians often speak with very little factual basis," Getman said. "I have experience because I used to represent the Connecticut State Police. They really do come with dedication. They want to do good. They care about such things as fighting fires or doing decent police work. There are down times."
Although Getman is pro-union, he said he recognized the negative impact or unintended consequences that are inherit in any organization.
"Whether employees feel they've been unfairly treated, there is some debate about unions," he said. "That can't be right. It's not who they are. They never lose being firemen because that's what their identity is. They've chosen this field and wanted to do this since they were kids.
"They are much more dedicated to their profession than to their union. I think that is basically true of both police and fire departments. It's very difficult to generalize without some significant factual basis. It's difficult to see how the attorney general would know what they do during the day."
Paxton alleges that under the release time arrangement, Austin firefighters lobby government officials, participate in partisan political duties, negotiate higher wages and benefits, attend union meetings and solicit members at taxpayer expense.