Federal Workers Got $155M in Tax Dollars to Work for Labor Unions

Alissa Tabirian | July 30, 2013 | 3:50pm EDT
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Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)

(CNSNews.com) – Federal employees were paid more than $155 million of taxpayer dollars in 2011 for spending more than 3.4 million hours of "official time" on labor union activities that fell outside their assigned government duties, according to a survey by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

"Voluntary membership in Federal sector unions results in considerable reliance by unions on the volunteer work of bargaining unit employees, rather than paid union business agents, to represent the union in representational matters such as collective bargaining and grievances," the OPM stated.

But these "volunteers" were doing their union work on government time.

The Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs “have hundreds of employees on their payroll that do nothing but full-time union work paid for by taxpayer dollars,” declared Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) after introducing The Federal Employee Accountability Act (S.1312) earlier this month to repeal most “official time off,” which Coburn called “a grievous violation of the public’s trust.”

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) has introduced a companion bill in the House (H.R. 107) that would repeal “official time” provisions except in cases where an agreement is reached for “necessary activities.”

This was “an increase of 9.66 percent compared to FY 2010,” OPM found. Furthermore, “the cost of ‘official time’ hours increased by 11.86 percent” from 2010 to 2011.

Official time is defined as “paid time off from assigned Government duties to represent a union or its bargaining unit employees,” according to the OPM report. Title 5, Section 1731 of the U.S. Code states that “any employee representing an exclusive representative in the negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement under this chapter shall be authorized official time for such purposes.”

According to the OPM survey, top “official time” spenders included Veterans Affairs ($42,565,000.79), Treasury ($27,314,928.23), Transportation ($17,712,397.98), and Defense ($13,996,108.85).

But other federal agencies exhibited the highest percentage increase in official time hours used between 2010 and 2011, including the Federal Election Commission (441 percent), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (371  percent) , the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (291 percent), and the National Credit Union Administration (234 percent).

“The Obama administration abruptly stopped disclosing official time usage,” a spokesperson in Coburn’s office told CNSNews.com. “The only way to get the information now is through Freedom of Information Act and congressional requests. Our requests to date have not been answered, and more are forthcoming.”

The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 gives federal employees permission “to facilitate implementation of new workplace initiatives that enhance employees’ ability to effectively serve the public,” “to negotiate contracts and other collective bargaining agreements,” and “to represent employees in grievances and disciplinary actions,” among other things.

“Official time is directly negotiated in CBAs [collective bargaining agreements],” the Coburn aide continued. “If Dr. Coburn’s bill becomes law, future contracts would not be able to include most of the official time agreements.”

Coburn also introduced another bill (S. 1338) that would require OPM to submit an annual report to Congress regarding the use of official time by federal employees.

“Generally, when Congress passes a law, a contractual provision that violates that statute becomes unenforceable, and the executive branch is bound to follow the law. This administration, however, does not always take to court to enforce or defend the law,” Coburn’s aide added, noting that the determination of whether certain activities are legitimate exceptions “would likely fall to federal courts.”

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