The Hatch Act, Unions and Postal Service

According to the OSC, the Postal Service took action to assist a union’s political activity in violation of the Hatch Act.

The Postal Service provided 2,776 days off to employees (leave without pay) selected by the union to assist in helping to achieve the union’s political objectives during the 2016 election. (See USPS Gave Union Officials 2776 Days for Election Work)

Based on the report from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the agency, the Postal Service absorbed the resulting overtime expenses. Additionally, the agency did not fully consider the impact on the agency’s operational needs as a result of giving a number of employees time off to help a federal employee union achieve its political objectives.

The requests for leave without pay to work on election objectives were also granted by the Postal Service without coordinating with operating agency officials according to the OIG report.

After the election, the union president stated:

Although yesterday’s election did not turn out as we had hoped, the American people have spoken.

Our endorsement of Hillary Clinton, and of so many other candidates who came up short at the polls, was always about their positions on workplace issues of importance to letter carriers and about their support for a vibrant U.S. Postal Service.

We congratulate President-Elect Donald Trump and pledge our determination to work with the new administration and the leaders of the newly elected Congress to strengthen our country and our Postal Service.

Had we prevailed in more races, we would have been in a better position to achieve sensible postal reform legislation and to protect the interests of active and retired members of the NALC. But now we face a lot of uncertainty. We intend to engage with the Trump administration and the new Congress to advance our issues while continuing to vigorously defend letter carriers’ jobs and standard of living as well as the benefits and interests of our retired members.

The Hatch Act and Granting LWOP

The FedSmith article did not address potential Hatch Act violations in the actions by the Postal Service as the OIG report did not address the relevance of the Hatch Act to the granting of leave without pay in order to further the union’s political objectives during the election. In the numerous comments on the original article, some readers articulated their belief no Hatch Act violations occurred.

However, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has now issued its report on the granting of leave without pay and how granting leave without pay under these circumstances involves the Hatch Act.

The OSC concluded that the agency was engaging in “institutional bias” as a result of its actions granting leave without pay in order to further the unions’ political activities. As a result, the actions by the agency are in violation of the Hatch Act. A federal agency has an obligation to remain politically neutral.

The only employees who were given leave without pay on short notice were those who were going to work for candidates endorsed by the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC). This was done despite the objections of supervisors concerned about the operational impact of giving employees time away from work.

Hatch Act Violation But No Disciplinary Action

There was not a recommendation for any disciplinary action.

While a Postal Service representative sent a list of union representatives to be granted leave without pay, OSC concluded the motive was not to influence the outcome of the election. While that was likely the union’s objective, and the agency was aware of these objectives, the motive of the labor relations or management official was to maintain a good working relationship with the union.

The union’s Labor 2016 program was “political activity” for Hatch Act purposes.

Therefore, the actions of the Postal Service were a violation of the Hatch Act as “The collective involvement of USPS management in the Labor 2016 program constitutes a systemic violation of the Hatch Act” according to the Office of Special Counsel.

The rationale of OSC was that the Hatch Act violations were largely based on actions by the agency and not by any one employee. The Office of Special Counsel writes in its report that the findings were provided to the Postal Service and the organization will take action to comply with the recommendations.

Hatch Act Violations Found in USPS Granting of Leave Without Pay

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47