The Senate is gearing up to vote on two measures aimed at curbing federal employees’ ability to work on union representational issues while on the clock. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) offered a controversial measure as an amendment to the Senate’s annual defense authorization bill. It would prevent employees from counting years where they worked at least 80 percent on union representational duties toward their retirement pensions.
This bill would also prevent these employees from receiving bonuses and prohibit employees from engaging in any political activity, including lobbying, while on official time.
The term “official time” would get replaced with “federal taxpayer-funded union time”.
The second amendment would demand that the Office of Personnel Management issue more routine reports on official time usage. OPM is not required by the Senate to issue these reports and they last released information on official time use in 2014.
House Republicans have made many attempts to increase oversight and reduce usage of official time over the last few years. However, the Senate has largely ignored these efforts. Lawmakers originally enabled unions to use official time to compensate labor groups for having to represent employees they couldn’t’ require paying dues.
Generally, unions have called official time an “existential threat” saying Republicans were looking for avenues to carry out their opposition to collective bargaining.
The American Federal of Government Employees called the retirement bill “union busting” that would “silence the voice of workers”.
“Federal managers and their employees are fully competent to negotiate the terms of official time when it is needed, how much is needed, and where it should be used to address unique agency and workplace issues,” AFGE wrote in a letter to the House Committee.
A similar letter, by the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, said it was more efficient for one employee to work 100 percent on official time than for two to split their time between union and official agency business.
IFPTE wrote, “For civil servants to be able to do their jobs effectively and to report wrongdoing without fear of reprisal, they must have credible and effective representation, independent of management, that can interact at all levels of government to provide decision makers with a more balanced and complete picture to allow for better and more informed overall governance.”
Lawmakers frequently turn to cutting federal employees’ retirement benefits when proposing budget cutting reforms. So, it’ll be interesting to see what actually happens with these proposals.