Union Official Time Breeds Corruption

The Office of Labor-Management Standards of the Department of Labor conducts criminal investigations to unearth union wrongdoing that violates the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.

A recent analysis conducted over at FedSmith.com found that the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a federal government union, leads all American unions in criminal misconduct since 2014 with 13 union officials found guilty and three indicted.

While it is unknown why AFGE leads the pack in criminal misconduct, a little known government union special privilege may explain some of the union’s proclivity for malfeasance.

Five AFGE union officials found guilty or indicted of criminal activity ranging from embezzling to mail fraud to theft were granted 100 percent union official time.

Official time is the practice where government employees conduct union business instead of their regularly assigned duties while paid by the taxpayer. Basically, union officials get to perform union business, or in the case of these AFGE officials commit criminal acts, instead of work for the taxpayer who pay their salary.

The subsidy to federal government unions has been around since the Carter administration. In FY 2012, the last year data is available, federal employees spent a total of 3,439,449 hours on official time, an increase of 1.3 percent from FY 2011. The cost of official time also increased in FY 2012 to $157,196,468 from around $155 million.

Although the annual cost is much more, according to a recent GAO report. At the federal agencies examined by the GAO, it found that using a more sound methodology than currently used, official time costs were around 15 percent higher. In addition, the federal government does not include the cost of travel, office space or arbitration expenses incurred by the public for federal employees on official time. According to the 2011 Social Security Administration’s “Report on Expenditures for Union Activities,” those cost the agency $2.8 million.

Obviously, not all federal employees on official time are involved in criminal misconduct, but the sense of privilege that federal union officials on 100 percent official time feel cannot help.

Congress should continue and has taken a stab in the past few sessions to curb or eliminate official time, but has failed.

Most recently, Representative Jody Hice (R-Ga.) introduced an amendment to eliminate official time at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA abuses the practice of official time more than most federal agencies. In FY 2012, 259 VA employees worked exclusively for their union instead of working for the taxpayer and the total cost of official time at the VA was more than $45 million. Unfortunately, Rep. Hice’s amendment failed with 49 Republicans voting in favor of the union subsidy (see list of GOP Representatives, here).

The problem is the law finds that collective bargaining and official time in the federal government “promote the general welfare” and “contribute to the effective conduct of public business.”

But this simply cannot be the case. How can 100 percent official time federal employees contribute to effective government when they never perform any civil service? They can’t.