Bill would ban feds from conducting union activities at work

Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga. Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga. Flickr user republicanconference

Government unions can expect to see the revival of legislation aimed at their rights to conduct union business.

Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., plans to reintroduce the 2011 Federal Employee Accountability Act in the 113th Congress, spokeswoman Jen Talaber said. The bill would repeal two sections of the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act that allow federal employees to work official hours to perform union functions. Under U.S. Code, “official time” is defined as collective bargaining, arbitration and any other matter deemed necessary for official time by management and union representatives.

Gingrey introduced the legislation first in 2009 and again in 2011, when it was referred to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. It’s not due for a vote before the end of this session, but Talaber said the bill will come up again.

The legislation “will create efficiency in the federal workforce and maintain oversight over taxpayer dollars by ensuring that civil servants are performing the job that they were hired to do, rather than working for the union on the taxpayer dime,” she said.

Gingrey cites an Office of Personnel Management survey of 61 agencies and departments that found more than 3 million official-time hours were used in collective bargaining or arbitration of grievances during fiscal 2010. He estimates that repealing this official-time rule would save more than $686 million over five years and more than $1.3 billion over 10 years.

Similar figures were cited this week by political commentator Mallory Factor in a speech at the Heritage Foundation.

Factor, a professor of international politics and American government at The Citadel, spoke at the conservative think tank about his new book, Shadowbosses: Government Unions Control America and Rob Taxpayers Blind (Center Street, 2012). He slammed the role of government unions in the political process and told the audience that he had heard about “some legislation forthcoming, to say, hey, unions, if you want to have people working full time, don’t ask the taxpayer to pay them to do union work.”

Several unions representing government employees declined to comment on Factor’s comments, but National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley has previously called the Gingrey legislation “a significant step backward in the effective functioning of a taxpayer-centered, labor-management relations system in the federal government.”

Federal agencies are not currently required to submit their official time usage to OPM. A similar piece of legislation, introduced in 2011 by Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., would require OPM to submit an annual report to Congress on the use of official time by federal employees. Gingrey is a co-sponsor of that measure.

Matt Biggs, legislative and political director for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, last year called the information in the bill "misleading and downright inaccurate.”

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