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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Congress unwilling to offend federal employee unions by limiting official time -- By Mark Flatten, The Washington Examiner

Eliminating official time would break federal employee unions -- or at least, that's the warning from civil servants who collect their government paychecks while doing union work.

That's just hype, say Congressional critics who sponsored bills to reign in the practice. Ending official time would simply make the unions pay their own people, stopping the subsidy they now get from taxpayers.
Official time allows union representatives to be released from their regular duties so they can instead do union work while receiving full pay and benefits from the federal agencies that employ them.

Hundreds of top union officials are released full time, meaning they do no work for their agencies.

That cost taxpayers almost $155.6 million in fiscal 2011, the most recent year for which figures are available. The most recent annual disclosures from the three federal employee unions that use the most official time -- the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the National Treasury Employees Union -- show combined income of more than $273.4 million from member dues and other sources.

“They spend all day long while the taxpayers are paying their salaries, and all they are doing is work on behalf of the union,” said Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., sponsor of a bill to limit the hours unions receive.

“My bill doesn’t take away their rights. It simply says that the unions themselves should pay their salaries, not we the taxpayers,” Gingrey said.

There are four major bills to change the rules governing official time languishing in Congress. None, including Gingrey’s, would eliminate the taxpayer subsidy of unions.

Two bills would increase disclosure requirements. The others would give agency managers more power to limit the number of hours allowed by stripping the Federal Labor Relations Authority of its ability to review agency decisions on the issue.

Official time would still be allowed if both the agency and union determine it is “reasonable, necessary, and in the public interest” under identical bills sponsored by Gingrey and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

That's a big loophole. About 75 percent of official time already goes for “general labor-management relations.” The rest is used for negotiating contracts and resolving disputes.

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