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Personnel Agency Demands Data on Use of Union Official Time, Telework

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

The Office of Personnel Management on Wednesday released the requirements for agencies to report the use of official time by union employees, as the government’s HR agency continues implementation of President Trump’s controversial workforce executive orders.

As part of an executive order seeking to reduce the number of work hours that union employees can spend on official time and limit the activities that qualify, the Trump administration has ordered all federal agencies to submit a report annually outlining the use of official time within their organizations.

Official time is the practice by which union employees are compensated for their work on representational issues. Members are prohibited from conducting internal union business while on official time.

In guidance to agency heads, OPM Director Dale Cabaniss outlined the requirements for the first annual submission of data on the use of official time, which will cover the 2019 fiscal year and is due Jan. 31, 2020. Agencies must list the purposes for which officials authorized the use of official time, as well as the amount of time devoted to each purpose, including contract negotiations, mid-term contract negotiations, dispute resolution and general labor-management relations.

Agencies also must provide the job title and total compensation, including non-salary benefits, of every employee who used official time in the previous fiscal year, as well as the total number of hours used by each employee.

Additionally, agencies must submit “the total value of the free or discounted use of government property” provided to union representatives on official time, as well as “any expenses the agency paid for activities conducted” on official time. The data also should account for any reimbursement paid by a federal employee union for use of government property.

The executive order, which recently went into effect after a federal appellate court lifted an injunction blocking its key provisions, seeks to reduce the amount of official time employees can use to 25% of their work hours, and cap the total amount of annual official time for a union at one hour per employee in the bargaining unit.

Cabaniss’ guidance stated that agencies must identify “instances” where official time exceeded the one-hour-per-employee average, as well as provide a written explanation if the “aggregate union time rate” has increased since the previous year for which data was reported. For the first submission of data, the reference point will be fiscal 2016, which was the last time OPM collected data on official time.

OPM also instructed agencies to begin implementation of a system to monitor the use of official time “to ensure that it is used only for authorized purposes.” Cabaniss wrote that OPM anticipates publishing a new governmentwide report on the use of official time by June 30, 2020.

In addition, OPM on Wednesday announced it would soon begin soliciting data from agencies on the use of telework, in accordance with the Telework Enhancement Act. In a memo to human resources directors, OPM Associate Director for Employee Services Mark Reinhold said the window for submitting data will be open from early November to Dec. 13, 2019, and the legally mandated report will be issued to Congress sometime next year.

“Telework is an important flexibility that can be used to meet a variety of agency human capital and budgetary objectives,” Reinhold wrote. “OPM is committed to supporting the expansion of telework and assisting agencies to meet their goals.

Although OPM has repeatedly cited the importance of telework in improving employee engagement, morale and productivity, a number of federal agencies have cut back on the practice within the last two years, most notably at the Agriculture and Education departments. Cabaniss renewed the agency’s focus on telework and other work-life balance programs earlier this month in a memo commemorating National Work and Family Month.

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