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.