When Joshua Hall left his teaching position at Hartford's Weaver High School in 2008 to work for the Hartford Federation of Teachers, he didn't give up his salary. Instead, Hartford schools continued to pay him as vice president of the union, with the union only partially reimbursing the schools.
The practice of Connecticut's near-bankrupt capital city paying union workers attracted little notice until April when Hall won a seat in the state house by special election as a member of the Working Families Party.
Hall, WFP - Hartford, left his teaching position at Weaver High School in Hartford in 2008 to work full time as vice president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers but Hall has continued to receive a salary from the Hartford school system for the past nine years, according to the Hartford Board of Education.
Under a provision in the Hartford teachers contract known as "union detached leave service," Hall continues to receive his salary, full benefits and pension eligibility while the teachers' union reimburses the city 70 percent of his salary.
Hall received $82,648 during the 2015-16 school year, and $83,648 during the 2016-17 school year, according to information received through a freedom of information request.
Based on the terms of the contract, Hartford is ultimately responsible for $25,000 of his salary, full benefits and Hall will be able to receive a pension upon retirement. Teacher pension costs are part of the state budget, so taxpayers across the state will share part of Hall's pension costs.
The union detached service leave clause of the 2002 and 2008 contracts states "teachers on detached service shall enjoy all the rights, privileges and benefits of the collective bargaining agreement between the Hartford Board of Education and the Hartford Federation of Teachers. Upon return to service, he/she shall be placed on the assignment which he/she left if the position had not been eliminated."
Detached service leave allows up to three teachers in a given year to work full time for the union while still receiving salary and benefits provided by the city.
The Hartford teachers' contract was amended in 2011 so that the city no longer pays any salary for those on detached service, but the change did not appear to affect Hall's pay.
Hall did not respond to requests for comment and no one from the Hartford board of education or the Hartford Federation of Teachers have returned Yankee Institute's calls or emails.
Hall capitalized on his teaching experience during his special-election campaign to replace Douglas McCrory, who resigned his seat after being elected to the Senate. Hall was nominated by the Working Families Party and defeated Democratic rivals to become the Working Families Party's second election win in the state.
However, during that campaign Hall was collecting a paycheck and benefits from a school system that faces a $20 million budget deficit and may have to lay off 200 teachers.
Whether or not Hartford moves forward with those layoffs may depend on the state budget. Gov. Dannel Malloy has proposed a $50 million bailout for the city as part of his revised budget but that provision may not survive the budget debate in the legislature.
Hall worked as a history teacher at Weaver High School for 11 years before moving onto his position with HFT for nine years, which makes him eligible to receive a pension. According to state statute, a teacher must work for 20 years in order to be eligible to receive a pension.
Hall spoke out against Gov. Dannel Malloy’s plan to transfer one-third the cost of teacher pensions to municipalities, saying it would “break the city.”
Typical union leave allows a union representative paid time off in hourly increments to do union work, such as representing fellow union members during a grievance hearing. But those union representatives are still working as teachers in the school system
The practice, however, is subject to abuse. A 2015 study showed that some state employees were spending over 200 days a year doing union business while being paid salary and benefits by Connecticut taxpayers.
Some collective bargaining contracts specifically allow an employee to leave their job for up to two years to work full time for the union. In most cases the agency is not required to pay that individual during that time. In other instances, such as the contract between the AFT and UConn Health Center, the individual continues to receive their pay but the agency is reimbursed by the union.
After the designated amount of time the employee then returns to work at the agency and does not lose any of his or her seniority or other employee benefits due to the time they were away.
The practice of using taxpayer money to pay full-time union leadership has been documented in Illinois. The Illinois News Network reported on one teachers’ union president who was receiving a six-figure salary from taxpayers while working full time for the union.
The report from Illinois also included other teachers and librarians. In some cases the Illinois schools were reimbursed for part of the teachers’ pay, but those amounts were less than half the teacher’s salary.
It is unknown how prevalent this practice may be within the Hartford school system.