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House Committee Examines Union Subsidy

Today the House Subcommittee on Government Operations held a hearing entitled “Union Time on the People’s Dime: A Closer Look at Official Time.” The purpose of the hearing was to review problems with the practice of official time, which grants federal employees paid time off to perform union business at the taxpayers’ expense. In addition, to discuss potential legislative reforms to official time.

In conjunction with the hearing, the majority at the subcommittee released a memorandum that presents data obtained by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs from 23 federal agencies related to the use of official time.

As a witness at the hearing, I focused my testimony on potential legislative reforms. Union official time is a waste of taxpayer dollars and needs to be eliminated. It uses tax dollars to support the private interests of federal employee unions. In essence, federal employee unions are able to represent their members at no cost because official time covers the tab for representational costs, office space, and supplies. Union dues should pay for union representation, not taxpayer dollars.

A potential reform could nullify the need for union official time. Unions contend that official time is necessary because federal employee unions are required by law to represent non-members who do not pay dues. This problem can be easily solved by lifting the legal requirement for federal employee unions to represent non-members. Congress should consider implementing what is known as Workers Choice—a members-only union policy that relieves unions of the obligation to represent non-members, and as a result eliminates the need for official time.

Membership in and representation by a union should be voluntary. Non-members should not be forced to work under a union-negotiated agreement they do not want and unions should not be forced to represent employees who do not pay dues. A policy of Workers Choice addresses union concerns, eliminates the need for official time, and protects workers’ freedom of association.

Another reform, which received bipartisan support at the hearing, is the need to increase the transparency of official time. Currently, the reality is that nobody really know how much time and money is spent by the federal government on official time for union representatives. In addition, no one really knows what activities federal employees conduct on official time.

There just happens to be a bill that would improve transparency regarding official time. H.R. 1293, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), requires the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to furnish a report on the costs of official time throughout the federal government on an annual basis. The report must:

  • Include all information presented in the current OPM report.
  • Detail the specific types of activity for which official time was granted.
  • Detail official time’s impact on agency operations.
  • List the total number of employees who were granted official time.
  • Determine the amount of office space granted to unions to conduct official time activities.

Outside of discussion of the lack of transparency of official time, the subcommittee released data they received on official time. Here are some of the highlights of the official time data the committees received from 23 agencies:

  • In fiscal year 2017, 23 agencies reported 12,508 employees used official time
  • 981 federal employees spent between half and all of their workday on official time
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs had the greatest number of employees on 50 percent or more official time with 472
  • 221 federal employees who spent at least half of their time on official time were paid over $100,000