Union Official Time: AFGE Proposes a Blank Check

The author says an AFGE official time proposal fails to address accountability or tracking of the time.

In 2010, the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO made this proposal in bargaining over a newly formed nation-wide bargaining unit covering about 3000 employees with about 300 members. Let’s look at the highlights.

The Proposal Doesn’t Require Permission to Perform Union Functions

Despite John Gage’s testimony on official time recently, his union proposal (See section 3) titled “Release Procedures for Official Time Use,” the union rep leaves the worksite “unless the representative’s absence would cause a substantial disruption in the representative’s work area at that time.”

If the supervisor is not at his/her desk, the representative may notify by email then leave.  You will notice no reason is required and no time period estimated. Under this language, the representative could literally leave until retirement. Sound silly? Read some FLRA decisions on this issue.

My favorite is “Upon entering a work area other than his or her own to meet with an employee, the representative will advise the immediate supervisor of his or her presence, the employee to be contacted, and the estimated duration of the meeting.”

In other words, the union shows up, tells the manager he/she is going to talk to the employee for whatever period of time with no explanation of the purpose.

The Proposal Calls for Four Full Time National Council Representatives

“A bank of 8,000 hours of official time will be made available to the Council each year for use by for all representational functions and labor management activities at the national level. The Council President (or designee) will be responsible for administering the bank and allocating hours to individual representatives. The Council President (or designee) will inform the Agency of the Union representatives who are authorized to use official time. Hours not used during a contract year may be carried over to the next contract year.”

I came up with four full time representatives in that there are about 2087 hours in the work year. There are a couple of other very interesting demands in this as well. Note that the union’s council president allocates the time and determines who will use it. This means, under the case law of the Federal Labor Relations authority (FLRA), that the union may exempt four employees of its choosing from any work for the period covered by the contract regardless of the requirements of that individual’s Agency position.

According to AFGE, the average member pays $14-$16 in dues per pay period. Let’s use $15 which makes annual dues $390 (26 x $15) and total dues for the entire bargaining unit $117,000 (300 X $390). Assuming an average grade of GS-11, step 5, (outside of DC) and 32.85% benefits, each of these positions the union proposes to use costs $92,995 per year. Four would cost the Agency $371,980 or more than three times what employees pay in dues and this is only the cost of national council members. There’s more to come.

Under the union’s proposal (see section 4.1.C.o.), the union representatives get paid to “maintain office hours.” You got it: to sit in the union office and wait until someone shows up or calls, presumably indefinitely. So make sure you’ve got it. The government pays a representative of a non-governmental entity to sit in an office on the taxpayer’s dime and requires absolutely nothing from them.…and people point fingers at government contractors?

The Proposal Calls for Time to “Effectuate Congressional Contacts”

Section 4.1.C.p. proposes as an “appropriate use” of the bank time:

“to effectuate Congressional contacts:  (1)if requested or subpoenaed by a Member or committee of Congress to appear, or, (2) for any meeting with member(s) of Congress as a result of prearranged appointment, or, (3) for any contacts in their own regional office cities with members of Congress or their respective staff members…”

Since travel is included in the union proposal, national council representatives could spend their time visiting cities in which there was a congressional staff office and get paid for the time and, in another proposal, reimbursed for the travel. Ain’t America wunnerful.   If you don’t believe it, read the language proposed literally. Both the FLRA and an arbitrator would.

The Proposal Calls for an Unlimited Amount of Time for Other Representatives

In addition to the twenty two different activities authorized for official time for the full time national council reps, the proposal calls for “reasonable and necessary time” for another twelve functions and travel time to perform them. In addition, the proposal calls for local negotiations on the same issue (section 4.1.B.) as follows: “Use of official time by Local union representatives is an appropriate subject for local level negotiations. Absent any agreement on the use of official time at the local level, Local union representatives will be authorized use official time in amounts that are reasonable, necessary, and in the public interest.” So, in other words, if we forgot something or the local people want more, the Agency is obliged to enter local negotiations where the reps are on even more official time to conduct the bargaining and go to the Impasses Panel, also on official time, if the penurious Agency won’t agree.

That Ain’t All

In addition to the above, there’s a 600 hour training bank of official time to draw from and even more training time for new union reps.

Now suppose the Agency finds out a union rep is off on a cruise while allegedly on official time. Well, of course, disciplinary action, right? Maybe not. The following proposed language addresses the issue:

“Alleged abuses of official time shall be brought by supervisors and management officials on a timely basis to the attention of an appropriate management official designated by the Agency. The designated management official will then discuss the matter with the President of the Union at the appropriate Local or Council level.” 

So, does that mean the abuse is only subject to an Agency grievance. There are many arbitrators, some currently sitting on the FSIP, who would think so.

As always, any opinion you discern is mine and mine alone although it appears some of our legislators are waking up finally to stuff like the above.

AFGE Proposal – Official Time

About the Author

Bob Gilson is a consultant with a specialty in working with and training Federal agencies to resolve employee problems at all levels. A retired agency labor and employee relations director, Bob has authored or co-authored a number of books dealing with Federal issues and also conducts training seminars.