Workforce

Oversight bills seek to restrict union activity

Shutterstock image (by Jirsak): customer care, relationship management, and leadership concept. 

Republican lawmakers are looking to put new limits on union activity by federal employees during work hours.

Reps. Dennis Ross (R-Fl.) and Jody Hice (R-Ga.) offered bills aimed at federal employees' union activity. The bills represent part of the broader Republican push to cut civilian agencies' resources and curtail non-law enforcement union activities.

Ross's bill would require the Office of Personnel Management to submit an annual report to Congress on the uses of "official time" by federal employees. OPM defines official time as "paid time off from assigned government duties to represent a union or its bargaining unit employees."

The legislation specifies that the OPM report would include the total amount of official time granted to employees, the average time granted per bargaining unit employee, the reasons why official time was granted and its impact, as well as the total amount of compensation employees earn while on official time.

The bill passed committee by voice vote, with an amendment from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the panel's ranking member.

Hice's bill -- the Official Time Reform Act of 2017 -- seeks to prohibit employees from "engaging in any political activity, including lobbying" while on official time.

The bill would also prohibit employees who spend at least 80 percent their daily work hours on official time from counting that time towards retirement benefits.

Hice's bill was met with pushback from Democratic committee members and employee union representatives.

In a statement, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees J. David Cox called Hice's bill "a blatant attempt to bust federal employee unions and silence the voice of workers in decisions that impact not only their jobs, but services the American people rely on."

At the hearing, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said the bill "fundamentally misunderstands the function of official time" and union activities, adding the bulk of union time is spent improving workplace conditions, listening to grievances, cooperating with management and developing workforce training.

Cummings added that the bill would "discourage" union activity and "strip federal employees of their pensions when they represent their coworkers" as part of unions.

The committee recessed before taking a vote on Hice's bill.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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