Controlling Federal Unions’ Use of Official Time

A new Executive Order has been issued placing restrictions on use of a federal employee’s paid time when working as a union representative.

A new Executive Order designed to cut down on the amount of time used by federal employees working on behalf of a union was issued by President Trump on May 25, 2018. Here is a summary of what is in this new presidential order.

More Restrictive Interpretation of Federal Labor Law

The new Executive Order quotes the federal labor relations statute in various places. The Order places a different interpretation of these provisions with regard to a union’s use of time paid by the government when a union representative is not performing the duties of the federal job for which the representative is being employed.

For example, these sentences reflect the approach of the new restrictions.

Federal employees should spend the clear majority of their duty hours working for the public. No agency should pay for Federal labor organizations’ expenses, except as required by law. Agencies should eliminate unrestricted grants of taxpayer-funded union time and instead require employees to obtain specific authorization before using such time.

Defining Reasonable and Efficient Taxpayer-Funded Union Time

The Order dictates that an agreement that provides union time to exceed a time rate in excess of one hour will not ordinarily be considered “effective and efficient” or “reasonable, necessary and in the public interest.”

  • New reporting requirements are included in the Order if an agency agrees to authorize taxpayer-funded union time that would cause the union time rate to exceed one hour.
  • Also, employees are expected to spend at least three-quarters of their time during a fiscal year performing their function as a federal employee and not as a union representative.
  • No employee acting on behalf of a federal labor organization will be permitted free or discounted use of government property or agency resources. This includes office or meeting space, reserved parking spaces, phones and computers.
  • Employees cannot use union time to prepare or pursue grievances brought against an agency.

The Executive Order essentially assumes that the use of paid time for union representatives is not in the public interest and that union business is hindering agencies from accomplishing their mission. A couple of examples come from the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Directing agencies to work on renegotiating labor union contracts to cut taxpayer-funded union time by an average of two-thirds would presumably interfering less with an agency’s operations.

Impact of Federal Employees Working on Union Business in SSA

The Social Security Administration (SSA) estimates it could complete 135,000 more retirement applications or 17,000 more disability determinations annually if taxpayer funding for union activities were redirected to public service functions.

Impact of Union Business in the VA

The administration noted that more than 470 federal employees in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) spend 100 percent of their duty hours working for a labor union instead of serving veterans. This number includes 74 full-time nurses working for the union but receiving pay and benefits from the federal government.

The provisions of the new Order take effective 45 days from the date the Order was issued.

Union Reaction to Restrictions on Official Time

A statement from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is similar to the reaction of other federal employee unions.

Through the use of official time, volunteer representatives are able to work together with federal managers to use their time, talent, and resources to make our government even better. Gains in quality, productivity, and efficiency – year after year, in department after department – simply would not have been possible without the reasonable and sound use of official time.

Executive Order – Ensuring Accountability and Efficiency for Union “Official Time”

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