Lawmakers should end the practice of allowing public-sector workers to do union work instead of their actual jobs, urged a report Wednesday.
Official time allows federal employees to do union tasks instead of their regularly assigned work. The policy costs taxpayers an estimated $162 million annually. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) released a report arguing that lawmakers should consider reining in the practice.
The report highlights several key areas of concern including costs and mismanaged federal employees. An estimated one thousand federal employees spent every hour at work doing union activities. The report also notes that official time usage is likely underreported.
“Congress should eliminate this federal union subsidy,” the report argues. “At a minimum, it should require detailed annual reporting, and agencies should improve their tracking of union activity. Taxpayers have a right to know how much of their tax dollars are used to finance federal employee unions.”
The report adds official time is problematic because it uses taxpayer dollars for something that doesn’t serve the public interest. Official time instead serves the interest of unions and their members. Supporters counter that official time allows federal unions to properly fulfill their legally mandated duties.
“The goal of this legislation is to eliminate the ability of federal employees to form and join a union,” National Federation of Federal Employees President Randy Erwin previously said. “And to viciously penalize federal employees who serve as union representatives, like stewards, and singling them out and retroactively cutting their pensions.”
The CEI is a research nonprofit that promotes limited government and free-market policies. The group has been highly critical of official time usage. It previously released a letter urging congressional leaders to support a bill that would limit the practice.
The Official Time Reform Act was introduced earlier this month in a move to rein in official time use. It would prohibit federal employees from conducting political activity during official time. Federal employees could also lose service credits toward their pensions and bonuses if too much of their workday is spent doing union activities.
The CEI report also found that it’s often not clear what federal workers are doing during official time hours. Federal officials are only allowed to use official time for certain representational activities like negotiating or filing grievances. The report found 78 percent of reported hours were not clearly defined.
“The official time practice is all cost and no benefit for taxpayers,” CEI labor policy expert Trey Kovacs said in a statement provided to InsideSources. “Congress should stop requiring taxpayers to pay for government union activity that they have no say in and may not agree with.”
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has expressed some concern over how official time hours are being calculated. It found in a 2014 report that current methods underestimate how much official time hours are actually being used.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was hit with a national scandals in 2014. The agency subjected veterans to incredibly long wait times which left many dead. The scandal was partially blamed on agency employees using official time. The VA spent an estimated $48 million on official time hours that year.
The GAO conducted a more recent report Jan. 24 which found the agency is still not properly tracking official time hours. Federal employees who utilize official time retain their title, salary, and benefits while doing the union tasks. Federal agencies and unions negotiate official time provisions in their collective bargaining agreements.