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House Bill Spotlights Paid Union Activities By Federal Employees

A House bill would require federal agencies to report annually on the amount of “official time” (i.e., taxpayer-paid time) that federal employees spend on union activities rather than working at their regular job duties. H.R. 1293 (the “Official Time Reform Act of 2017”) was introduced by Rep. David Ross (R-Fla.) on March 1, 2017, and reported out of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on March 8.

The bill defines official time as time “which may be granted to an employee … (including [pursuant to] a collective bargaining agreement …) to perform representational or consultative functions … during which the employee would otherwise be in a duty status.”

Under the bill, federal agencies must report annually, at a minimum, the total amount of “official time” granted to employees, the employees to whom official time was granted, the total compensation paid to employees for official time, the activities engaged in by those employees while on official time, and the square footage of agency space used by employees engaged in official time. The federal agencies would report their responses to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which, in consultation with the Office of Management and Budget, would then prepare reports for the House and the Senate.

Not surprisingly, the AFL-CIO opposes the bill. Although the  legislation seeks to impose a reporting requirement, in a letter to Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the union argued the “legislation would impose a penalty of reduced pension accrual on those who agree to serve as employee representatives[,]” that “[e]mployees do not use official time for union business . . . [and t]he use of official time is a longstanding, necessary tool that gives agencies and their employees the means to expeditiously and effectively use employee input to address mission-related challenges. It also helps to bring swift closure to conflicts that arise in all workplaces.” The letter continued, “The law limits official time to that which the union and the agency both agree is reasonable, necessary, and in the public interest. Therefore, agency officials are able to oversee the use, management, and scheduling of official time based on the immediate needs of the workplace.”

The OPM last reported on official time in 2012. Then, the OPM’s report stated that federal employees conducted about 3.4 million hours of union business during regular duty hours at an approximate cost of $157 million to the taxpayers. If the bill passes, President Donald Trump can be expected to sign it. A similar bill passed the House last summer, but the Senate did not act on it.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2020National Law Review, Volume VII, Number 73


About this Author

Patrick Egan, Labor Law Attorney, Jackson Lewis, Boston Law Firm
Patrick L. Egan

Patrick L. Egan is a Principal in the Boston, Massachusetts, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Mr. Egan works in traditional labor law.

He has assisted employers in all industries in all phases of union organizing campaigns. Mr. Egan has represented employers in card-signing efforts and representation and decertification campaigns. He has conducted union awareness and positive employee relations training for hundreds of companies and employer groups. He has also assisted dozens of employers to preempt, prepare for and defend against union corporate campaigning....

Howard Bloom, Jackson Lewis, labor union attorney, unfair practice investigations lawyer, employment legal counsel, bargaining law

Howard M. Bloom is a Principal in the Boston, Massachusetts, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He has practiced labor and employment law representing exclusively employers for more than 36 years.

Mr. Bloom counsels clients in a variety of industries on labor law issues. He trains and advises executives, managers and supervisors on union awareness and positive employee relations, and assists employers in connection with union card-signing efforts, traditional union representation and corporate campaigns, and union decertification campaigns. He also represents clients at the National Labor Relations Board in connection with bargaining unit issues, objections and challenges, as well as unfair labor practice investigations and trials. Mr. Bloom also has been the spokesperson at countless first and successor contract collective bargaining negotiations, and regularly advises on collective bargaining agreement administration issues, including grievance/arbitration issues.

Mr. Bloom has appeared before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, several U.S. District Courts, the National Labor Relations Board, the Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

Philip B. Rosen Jackson Lewis  Preventive Practices Lawyer & Collective Bargaining Attorney

Philip B. Rosen is a Principal in the New York City, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is a member of the firm's Board of Directors and co-leads the firm's Labor and Preventive Practices Group. He joined the firm in 1979 and served as Managing Partner of the New York City office from 1989 to 2009.

Mr. Rosen lectures extensively, conducts management training, and advises clients with respect to legislative and regulatory initiatives, corporate strategies, business ethics, social media, reorganizations and reductions-...