Congress to feds: Do union work on your own time

By Jory Heckman
Federal News Radio

The federal government’s longstanding policy of letting workers conduct union matters during the workday has come under fire from two Georgia lawmakers.

Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) both introduced bills that would end official time, the right for federal employees to carry out union-related work while on the job. Official time has been the law of the land since the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978.

“After examining the practices of over 60 government agencies, my office has found an astounding amount of government waste. By eliminating the ‘official time’ practice, we will return over a billion dollars to hardworking American taxpayers, and shed this shady, wasteful practice that only benefits unions,” Hice said in a statement.

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Hice said he takes offense to government employees collecting a paycheck for hours not worked, but instead spending that time on union concerns.

In fiscal year 2012, the latest year the Office of Personnel Management has data for, the government spent $157.2 million on 3.43 million hours of official time — a 19 percent increase from the hours spent in fiscal 2008.

“While on the taxpayers’ dime, federal employees should not be allowed to spend the entire day, every day, conducting union-related business and not doing the government job they were hired for,” Isakson said while introducing his Senate bill in February.

Congress devised official time, in part, to give union members time to address the concerns of workers who are not union members and do not pay membership dues. Government employees are not required to join a union, even if they are covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 939,000 federal employees — 31.6 percent of the total federal workforce — belonged to a union in 2014, while another 139,000 said they were covered under a collective bargaining agreement, but didn’t belong to a union.

“Official time gives agencies an easy way to include employee input into any mission-related challenges that the agencies may face,” J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in response to the bills. “It also is used to help resolve conflicts that arise in the workplace without resorting to more expensive and time-consuming administrative or legal procedures.”

But official time use is not consistent across agencies, and some employees collect a government salary while working full-time on union matters.

According to a Fox News report, 259 employees at the Veterans Affairs Department and 201 at the IRS spend their entire workday on issues for their unions.

“The VA’s had problems getting veterans’ appointments within 30 days, yet they’re taking thousands of hours to organize the union. Something’s wrong with their priorities. We need to get it fixed,” Isakson told Fox News.

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