Federal Employee Unions Have a Bullseye on Them

Feb 17, 2017

Union workers


Federal employee unions have become more active in national politics over the last 20 years. Republicans are introducing proposals that would restrict their influence. The Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker implemented a policy in Wisconsin that reduced the power of public sector unions there. He recently spoke with Vice President Mike Pence about how the administration can utilize his strategy for dealing with unions.

Proposed Changes to Federal HR/Labor Relations

In the private sector, most unions can’t bargain over salaries and most benefits. However, some can do so. In agencies where they do negotiate wages, salaries are often higher. It is likely that there will be a push in Congress to make it easier to hire and fire federal employees and to base salary levels on performance rather than how long they’ve worked for the government.

Governor Walker showed his support for these changes by saying, “It’s the work rules, the seniority, all those things. If they could tackle that in a similar way to what we did (in Wisconsin), long-term it would be a major, major improvement.” He proposed a ban on collective bargaining by federal employees. He has also proposed requiring unions to hold periodic votes on their status. This would enable employees to decide whether they should continue to exist as a bargaining representative.

Since the changes were implemented in Wisconsin, union membership in the state dropped 40 percent in 2016. Only 8 percent of Wisconsin public/private sector workers were in a union.

Below is what Walker has previously proposed:

  • Making it illegal for federal workers to form unions would require changing the federal labor relations statute. This law became effective in 1978 and gives federal unions the right to represent workers and negotiate conditions of employment.
  • Requiring federal employment unions to disclose and certify the portion of dues used for political activity and prohibit withholding that amount. Noted in his policy: “Using the federal payroll system to withhold dues used for a union’s political spending runs counter to the law that establishes a separation between federal government resources and union political activity. On day one of our administration, I will require federal employee unions to disclose and certify the portion of dues used for political activity and prohibit withholding for that amount. The federal government should not be in the business of serving as dues collector for big-government special interests.”
  • Prohibiting union organizers from having access to employees’ personal information and require union recertification votes on a periodic basis.
  • Require online disclosure of union expenditures, including total pay of union officers, additional reporting for local affiliates of government employee unions and more conflict-of-interest reporting required.
  • Changing federal law to ensure unions can’t fine, discriminate or retaliate against a whistleblower who reports wrongdoing.
  • Require union disclosure of expenditures, including total pay of officers, additional reporting for local affiliates of government employee unions and more conflict-of-interest reporting required.

Official Time and Federal Employee Unions

The largest government contribution to federal employee unions is probably paying salary and benefits of federal employees on “official time”. This term refers to the governments’ practice of continuing to pay salary and benefits while an employee works for a union. This is costly for federal agencies and taxpayers and difficult to track.

Proposed Changes to Federal HR

These proposals would likely make it easier to fire a federal employee. Other changes include:

  • Eliminate automatic awarding of within-grade increases.
  • Combine vacation and sick leave into one plan. This would result in 16 days for workers with fewer than three years of service and up to 27 days for workers who have worked longer.
  • Alternatively, maintain separate vacation and sick leave accounts but restrict the total leave available.
  • Reduce the current vacation allowance from 13 days, 20 days, or 26 days (depending on years of service) to 10, 15, or 20 days respectively.
  • Reduce sick leave days from 13 days to 10 with the ability to roll sick leave over each year.
  • Remove government subsidy for health insurance benefits after retirement for new federal employees.
  • Transition to a new retirement system, with no changes for federal workers with 25 or more years of service.

At the time, it is not known which will move forward under President Trump.

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