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Two lawmakers introduce separate 'official time' bills

Two Republican lawmakers have introduced their own legislation in the same week aimed at targeting federal employees’ use of official time to conduct union activities.

Two Republican lawmakers have introduced their own legislation in the same week aimed at targeting federal employees’ use of official time to conduct union activities.

On March 6, Rep. Jody Hice (Ga.) introduced HR 1364—known as the Official Time Reform Act of 2017— which would take away retirement savings from some federal employees if they volunteer to serve as union representatives.

The American Federation of Government Employees is condemning the legislation.

“This bill would deny federal employees their lawful right to fair union representation by imposing artificial caps on how much time the union and federal agencies agree is needed to adequately represent workers,” AFGE National President J. David Cox said in a statement. “Even worse, this bill would financially penalize union representatives who exceed those artificial caps by taking away the retirement benefits they have rightfully earned,” he added.

Employees are allowed to use official time to conduct union activities such as working with employees and managers to resolve disputes, address issues of discrimination and retaliation, and effect improvements in the workplace that benefit all employees.

Union-specific business is not conducted using official time.

“The terms and conditions for representing employees on official time are spelled out in law and agreed to by each agency and union,” Cox added. “ This bill would create more inefficiencies in the workplace by essentially tying the hands of agency managers and union representatives to determine for themselves how best to use official time to uphold the rights of federal employees,” he continued.

Jodey Arrington (Texas) on March 9 introduced the introduced the Veterans, Employees and Taxpayer (VET) Protection Act, which require Veterans Affairs to track the use of official time.

Under VA’s current union agreements, union members can use “official time” to conduct union business such as working on employee grievances, addressing bargaining issues and some lobbying efforts while being paid.

Arrington’s bill would require VA to track that time and prohibit employees who work directly with patients from spending more than 25 percent of their time on union activities, and any VA employee from spending more than 50 percent of their time on such union work.

“It is outrageous and unconscionable that VA employees, especially employees who provide much needed health care services, are spending the majority of their time conducting union business instead of fulfilling the duties they were hired to do,” Arrington, who is chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, said.

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Phil Roe  (R-Tenn.) said of the bill, “The mission of the VA isn’t to take care of unions; it’s to take care of veterans,” adding, “This legislation will ensure that the well-being of our heroes is prioritized above all else, and I thank subcommittee chairman Arrington for his leadership on this issue.”

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