The Government Justice Center, an Albany-based public interest legal center, and the Center for Cost Effective Government (CFCEG), a Long Island-based taxpayer advocacy organization, are today filing lawsuits in state Supreme Court to stop the Syracuse City School District and Suffolk County from allowing government union officers to collect pay and benefits when they aren’t performing work for the taxpayers.

Under paid union leave, union officers and their designees are released from their government duties to conduct union business, which can range from attending contract negotiations to campaigning for the same local officials who authorized the leave. The practice, created through negotiations between municipal entities and government unions, constitutes an illegal gift under Article VIII of the state Constitution, according to the lawsuits.

Paid union leave is expected to cost New York City taxpayers alone $25 million this year, according to an Independent Budget Office calculation, while CFCEG estimates Suffolk County taxpayers incur $3 million in annual costs as a result of the County’s leave practices.

“I don’t begrudge the union having a leadership that lobbies on its behalf,” said former Suffolk County Executive and Assemblyman Steve Levy, executive director of CFCEG. ”However, just as in the private sector, it should be union dues, and not taxpayer funds, that pay the salaries of these union leaders to carry out the union’s private business.”

“The Government Justice Center was created this year to stand up for taxpayers when public money is being wasted and government isn’t following the rules,” said Cameron Macdonald, executive director of the Government Justice Center. “And that’s exactly what’s happening here. Taxpayers shouldn’t be paying government employees who aren’t showing up to work.”

The cases are being filed in Syracuse and Central Islip, respectively, with assistance from the Ronkonkoma law firm Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, whose named partner, Joe Campolo, spearheaded litigation that challenged the constitutionality of the 2009 MTA payroll tax and ultimately contributed to its partial repeal. The complaints will be posted here upon filing later today.

Click here to read the Syracuse complaint.