JudicialStatewide NewsTaxes & SpendingTexas Supreme Court Appeal Seeks to Prohibit City of Austin from Paying Union Employees Public Salary

Litigants are asking the state’s highest court to review the payment of union employees with taxpayer funds.
March 6, 2023
A lawsuit brought by several Texas taxpayers is challenging the constitutionality of the City of Austin paying union employees a publicly-funded salary, and after two unfavorable rulings, the taxpayers are petitioning the state’s highest civil court to grant a review of the case.

Litigants Roger Borgelt, Mark Pulliam, and Jay Wiley argue that a scheme by the City of Austin to pay members of the private Austin Firefighters Association a full-time salary to perform work solely for the union violates several provisions of the Texas Constitution.

The provisions deemed the “gift clauses” prohibit the usage of public funds for private or individual purposes.

Attorneys with the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Goldwater Institute are representing the three taxpayers. The Texas Attorney General’s Office is also joining in the lawsuit on the side of the petitioners, while the National Right to Work Foundation (NRTWF) has filed briefs with the court in support.

The NRTWF contends that the union, as a political action-type committee, inherently engages in political speech. By funding those actions with tax dollars, the City is therefore running afoul of the U.S. Supreme Court Janus v. AFSCME decision, which ruled that mandating union dues was unconstitutional compelled speech.

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“The notion that this political advocacy predominantly serves a public purpose, as opposed to predominantly benefiting the private organization, is untenable,” the amicus brief says.

NWTWF President Mark Mix released a statement regarding their organization’s brief with the court, arguing City should not be allowed to engage in compelled speech.

“While Janus now protects public employees around the country from being forced to fund union activities and speech against their will, unfortunately, many states and municipalities across the country permit union bosses to subsidize those same inherently political activities using direct payment of tax dollars,” Mix stated. “If union bosses cannot convince rank-and-file workers to voluntarily fund such activities as Janus requires, they should re-examine their priorities, not seek to force taxpayers to pay for what public employees won’t.”

In the request for review, the petitioners argue the Third Court of Appeals erred in its reasoning that the gift clauses were not violated, saying the City paid the union workers directly and not the organization itself.

“If left undisturbed the lower court’s holding that ‘no funds are … paid directly to the Association,’ would encourage government entities to subsidize private parties by coming up with circuitous schemes to indirectly fund private undertakings,” the appeal argues.

This issue, among a litany of other challenges to the City’s paid union employees, is at the crux of the petitioners’ argument for the Texas Supreme Court to grant review and settle the issue statewide.


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Matt Stringer

Matt Stringer is a reporter for The Texan who writes about all things government, politics, and public policy. He graduated from Odessa College with an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies and a Bachelor’s Degree in Management and Leadership. In his free time, you will find him in the great outdoors, usually in the Davis Mountains and Big Bend region of Southwest Texas.