Will Hill Seek to Lower Union Time in Sequestration Deal?

Rumor has it that union official time cuts may be on the table in sequestration negotiations. Rep. Gingrey (R-GA) has a bill on the floor claiming to do just that, however, it may not.

There’s an interesting rumor going about in our nation’s capital.  According to the rumor, part of the deal on fixing sequestration involves a lowering of official time use by Federal employees who serve as union representatives during what would otherwise be duty time.  If the Hill uses a current bill on the floor, the deal could wind up giving unions more official time.  No kidding!

Congressman Gingrey (Republican, Georgia 11th) proposed a bill on January third of this year titled HR 107 –Federal Employee Accountability Act . According to Gingrey’s website, “This bill eliminates use of “official time.” During the Carter administration, a law was enacted allowing federal employees to perform union activities—during the official work day—on the taxpayers’ dime. Use of official time is estimated to cost taxpayers $1.3 billion over 10 years. Repealing official time will save taxpayers money, provide greater government transparency and increase oversight of federal employees.”  Except it doesn’t, at least not according to its actual wording.

The actual bill reads as follows (from Thomas):

113th CONGRESS 1st Session H. R. 107

To amend title 5, United States Code, to limit the circumstances in which official time may be used by a Federal employee.


Mr. GINGREY of Georgia (for himself, Mr. SAM JOHNSON of Texas, Mr. JONES, Mr. ROSS, Mr. HUELSKAMP, Mr. KING of Iowa, Mr. ROKITA, Mr. PEARCE, Mr. KINGSTON, Mr. ROE of Tennessee, Mr. BROUN of Georgia, Mr. CARTER, Mr. DUNCAN of Tennessee, and Mr. CHAFFETZ) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform


To amend title 5, United States Code, to limit the circumstances in which official time may be used by a Federal employee.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


This Act may be cited as the `Federal Employee Accountability Act of 2013′.


Section 7131 of title 5, United States Code, is amended–

(1) by striking subsections (a) and (c);

(2) by redesignating subsections (b) and (d) as subsections (a) and (b), respectively; and

(3) in subsection (b) (as so redesignated by paragraph (2)), by striking `Except as provided in the preceding subsections of this section–‘ and inserting `Except as provided in subsection (a)–‘.

So I took the wording of the bill, crossed out and replaced what is currently in 5 U.S. Code § 7131 and got the following:

(a) Any employee representing an exclusive representative in the negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement under this chapter shall be authorized official time for such purposes, including attendance at impasse proceeding, during the time the employee otherwise would be in a duty status. The number of employees for whom official time is authorized under this subsection shall not exceed the number of individuals designated as representing the agency for such purposes.

(a)(b) Any activities performed by any employee relating to the internal business of a labor organization (including the solicitation of membership, elections of labor organization officials, and collection of dues) shall be performed during the time the employee is in a non-duty status.

(c) Except as provided in subsection (a) of this section, the Authority shall determine whether any employee participating for, or on behalf of, a labor organization in any phase of proceedings before the Authority shall be authorized official time for such purpose during the time the employee otherwise would be in a duty status.

(b) (d) Except as provided in the preceding subsections of this section—Except as provided in subsection (a)

(1) any employee representing an exclusive representative, or

(2) in connection with any other matter covered by this chapter, any employee in an appropriate unit represented by an exclusive representative,  shall be granted official time in any amount the agency and the exclusive representative involved agree to be reasonable, necessary, and in the public interest.

What the Gingrey Bill Doesn’t Change and, In Effect, Makes Worse

If you read the new proposed language, the new section (b)(2)  leaves to negotiations how much official time union’s get.  It also must leave the definition of official time to bargaining as the section defining it is gone.  Currently, union reps can’t get official time for overtime as they can only get it for time otherwise in a duty status.  So, in effect, the Bill removes the restriction and, if passed, the union reps would get overtime for time representing employees, for example, the union rep is on the day shift and the represented employee is on the night shift or negotiations go on after regular duty hours.

What the Congressman’s bill misses is that the Federal Labor Relations Authority has determined that just about any “representational” time use gets official time including lobbying, representing employees before MSPB and EEOC outside the grievance procedure and going to virtually any Agency meeting one can conjure up.  He should have read AFGE’s model language listing 20 or 30 instances in which official time is appropriate.

Once it’s on the bargaining table, the Federal Service Impasses Panel which resolves bargaining disputes is a big fan of the status quo, so what was in a former agreement is good unless an Agency can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it isn’t.  After all, they’re not spending their own money but an Agency’s (isn’t that also the taxpayer’s?)

I don’t know who authored the Bill, but a little knowledge of Federal sector labor relations law, history and practical operations might have helped.

Based on the above, Federal unions in Georgia ought to be out campaigning for the Congressman.

As always, any opinion you perceive herein is mine and mine alone.

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.