Federal employee unions rally at the Capitol in September for labor rights.

Federal employee unions rally at the Capitol in September for labor rights. Chelsea Bland / AFGE

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EEOC Formally Proposes Ending Official Time for Union Reps

Federal employee unions have decried the effort to strip labor representatives of the right to use official time to help prepare discrimination complaints as an erosion of employee protections.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Wednesday formally proposed stripping federal union officials of the right to official time for the purpose of working on a fellow employee’s discrimination complaint, upending decades of precedent and enraging labor groups.

First uncovered by Government Executive last month when the proposed regulations were still in draft form, EEOC’s proposal would reverse its approach to official time that has been in place for more than 40 years. The proposed rule would make union officials’ ability to use official time to work on EEO complaints subject to individual agencies’ collective bargaining agreements.

“Since union official time did not exist in statute until 1978, there was no reason for the [Civil Service Commission’s] original EEO procedures to address union official time when it first published the regulation in 1972,” the document states. “However, in its subsequent modifications of the EEO procedures, the commission has not expressly addressed the availability of ‘reasonable’ official time to union officials or how the commission’s official time regulation for EEO proceedings interacts with the [federal labor-management relations statute]. The commission now proposes to amend [the regulations] to exclude union representatives from its grant of reasonable official time for EEO proceedings.”

If implemented, the rule would have the effect of providing official time to non-union members enlisted to work on their coworkers’ discrimination complaints, but not to members of the union, despite the fact that the law establishing the agency gives broad latitude to employees to choose which colleague helps in their cases.

“If the complainant is an employee of the agency and he designates another employee of the agency as his or her representative, the representative shall have a reasonable amount of official time” to work on the case, the law states.

Federal employee unions on Wednesday blasted the proposal, arguing it will make it harder for employees to pursue discrimination complaints, citing the expertise that union officials provide to the process.

“As the EEOC acknowledges in its draft regulations, the use of reasonable official time when responding to a bias complaint is a right that both employees and their designated representatives have held since before the EEOC began handling federal sector cases,” said Jeremy Lannan, national vice president for women and fair practices at the American Federation of Government Employees. “The EEOC’s sudden move to strip representatives of this long-held right simply because they serve in the union is disgraceful and, if allowed to take effect, will have a chilling effect on the ability of workers to successfully challenge workplace discrimination.”

National Treasury Employees Union National President Tony Reardon said the proposal is an effort to weaken unions, but hurts victimized employees instead.

“Union representatives can provide valued assistance to employees victimized by unlawful discrimination,” he said. “The obvious goal of this proposal is to make it more difficult for them to give employees the help they need.”

Rachel Shonfield, president of AFGE Council 216, which represents EEOC employees, said that in an era where victims are more empowered than ever to seek justice for harassment and misconduct, this proposal “sends exactly the wrong message.”

“The EEOC has seen a noticeable uptick in the number of sexual harassment claims sparked by the #MeToo movement, yet somehow this administration believes federal employees need less help—not more—in fighting these and other discrimination cases,” Shonfield said. “When employees are confronted with these sensitive issues at work, they must continue to have the unimpeded right to be accompanied and advised by a person they are comfortable with, which is the representative of their choice.”

(Image via Flickr user Chelsea Bland / AFGE)