The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued a new report that found union workers cost the federal government more than $155 million in 2011. This is a 12 percent increase from 2010 and the highest in any year since the OPM started to collect the data voluntarily in 2002.
Using the term “official time” applies to public sector union officials receiving taxpayer-funded salaries and work in government offices. It was first created as part of an Executive Order by President John F. Kennedy and then later reaffirmed during the President Jimmy Carter administration.
Federal civil servants used up a lot of time working for unions. The report discovered that they spent roughly 3.4 million hours performing duties for the union while receiving federally funded salaries. This is the highest total since 2004 and a 10 percent increase from 2010, the largest jump from one year to the next.
Despite the figure being down since 2002 when public sector employees worked approximately 4.7 million hours, the amount of salaries paid out was significantly lower.
Of the largest agencies with more than 25,000 bargaining unit employees, the Department of Homeland Security saw the biggest increase with a 31 percent overall surge. This was followed by the Veterans Affairs Department (23 percent) and the Transportation Department (11.63 percent).
When it comes to the federal government as a whole, the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), an agency with 1,000 or fewer bargaining employee units, had the highest jump in official time use with a 441 percent increase from 2010 to 2011. The Consumer Product Safety Commission was second with a 370 percent jump and in the third spot was the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporations with a 291 percent increase.
Over the years, Republican legislators have attempted several times to either initiate more oversight of official time or to abolish it completely because many argue that government employees are completing its union work on the taxpayers’ dime. Others also say that they’re “political organizing” and “without taxpayers’ knowledge.”
Florida Republican Congressman Dennis Ross and Georgia Republican Congressman Phil Gingrey co-sponsored a bill that implements heightened oversight – Rep. Gingrey has proposed a law that would eliminate official time completely. Both pieces of legislation have been referred to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
However, union leaders make the case that it’s the best policy to “effectively represent their colleagues.”
“The use of official time allows our members to effectively represent their colleagues through activities such as setting procedures that protect employees from on-the-job hazards, establishing flexible work hours that enhance agencies’ service to the public, participating in improvement of work processes and providing workers with a voice in determining their working conditions,” said Beth Moten, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) legislative director, in a statement provided to Government Executive.
It seems that official time isn’t just a problem at at the federal level, but also at the municipal or state government level. Last summer, it was reported that Camden Mayor Dana Redd abolished its police force and instead imposed a county-level police division.
Many in the city were stunned to find out that two police officers, who happen to be union leaders, have been on paid leave and were exempt from conducting police duties in order to perform union work, all with the taxpayers’ money. The police union president Kevin Wilkes, who has noted that his officers are exhausted, even though they have a 30 percent absenteeism rate, said that “one sergeant and one detective are not going to solve the crime problem.”
Over the past five years, police and fire union officials earned about $2.3 million in salary and benefits. By the end of 2012, many cops are going to lose their jobs because union leaders put their union duties as more of an importance than capturing the bad guys.
“This shady, often-hidden public subsidy of union leave from paid public employment costs us all millions every year and must end,” said Michael Drewniak, a spokesperson for New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie.
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