New Bill Would Strip IRS Employees of Union Rights

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., introduced the bill. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., introduced the bill. Cliff Owen/AP

The Internal Revenue Service should no longer employ unionized employees, a lawmaker proposed on Thursday.

The End the Partisan IRS Culture (EPIC) Act, introduced by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., would eliminate labor organization and collective bargaining requirements at the agency. Scott said he put the bill forward in light of the criticism the IRS has faced for its alleged political targeting and its use of official time.

The bill would “end the partisan culture at the IRS”  evidenced by the National Treasury Employees Union -- which represents the nearly 90,000 IRS employees -- donating overwhelmingly toward Democrats, Scott said.

“We should put the 200-plus employees currently doing union work back to serving the American taxpayers,” Scott said of official time, “not their union bosses and the politicians they support.”

Federal unions are prohibited from mandating that collective bargaining units pay dues, so in exchange they are permitted to have members conduct union business while collecting government paychecks and working in government offices. Treasury Department employees conducted more than 580,000 hours of official time in fiscal 2012 -- the most recent year for which data are available -- with a price tag of about $25 million.

Scott’s bill would amend a part of the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act that governs federal unions to exempt the IRS from collective bargaining rights. The move would not be without precedent, as other divisions of the Treasury Department and components across government have been exempted by a series of executive orders. Other agency employees, such as those at the FBI and CIA, are prohibited from unionizing by statute.

Earlier this year, a Republican report led by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, suggested the IRS workforce should not be able to unionize. Hatch similarly cited his perception that union activity exerted a political bias on IRS employees while carrying out their jobs.

NTEU took issue with Scott’s bill, saying the logic he used to promote it was flawed. While the senator said he would end “mandatory labor unions,” current law requires all federal labor representation be voluntary. Scott also said NTEU’s union dues go to supporting Democrats, but all of the union’s political donations come from separate fundraising efforts. NTEU President Tony Reardon said any malfeasance in the IRS political targeting scandal stemmed from poor management, rather than union-backed bias.

“Taking away rights for rank and file employees to have union representation in their workplace is in no way appropriate here,” Reardon said, “especially when, without the cooperation of union-represented employees, some in IRS management may have been successful in their initial attempts to scapegoat innocent front line workers in the tax exempt investigation.”

The introduction of the bill came on the heel’s of NTEU suffering another potential setback, as the House on Thursday passed a measure -- as an offset for a transportation bill -- that would privatize tax collection at the IRS.  NTEU and other groups have deplored private collection as inefficient for the government and impersonal for taxpayers. That legislation will now head to a conference with the Senate to iron out differences in each chamber’s version.

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