AFGE Denounces Administration Moves to Prevent Workers from Addressing Discrimination, Retaliation, Unsafe Workplaces

Categories: The Insider

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has issued its fiscal 2019 official time report, congratulating itself for preventing federal employees from addressing workplace problems such as discrimination, retaliation, and unsafe working conditions. 

OPM’s latest report boasts that the total time spent by federal employees on representational duties has plunged by more than 28% since 2016, spurred by President Trump’s 2018 executive order targeting the decades-long practice. But just because the administration has blocked workers from addressing those problems with management doesn’t mean they’ve magically gone away.  

“Preventing employees from addressing unfair or unsafe treatment in the workplace is nothing to brag about, yet that’s precisely what the Trump administration has done by attacking union representatives’ ability to use official time in federal agencies,” said AFGE President Everett Kelley. “Because of this administration’s extreme adversarial stance toward employees, federal workers today have fewer opportunities to hold agency officials to account for poor management and fewer protections against discrimination, retaliation by political appointees, and hazardous and unsafe working conditions – all of which have become increasingly important during the pandemic.”  

The Biden-Harris administration has pledged to overturn Trump’s anti-worker executive orders, cease the attacks on union rights, and once again listen to the voices of front-line workers about matters affecting their jobs and the work they do on behalf of the American people. 

Why we have official time 

Official time is the system Congress established into law 40 years ago to ensure that all federal employees, whether they belong to a union or not, are guaranteed the right to fair representation and workplace protections against unfair treatment. Employees who volunteer to serve as union representatives are allowed certain hours in their work days to carry out those representational activities. It's a practice in which federal managers and employees work together to make government more efficient, productive, and just. 

Contrary to what anti-worker politicians want people to believe, official time is never used to conduct internal union business, such as soliciting members, holding internal union meetings, electing union officers, or engaging in partisan political activities. 

Here are 5 examples of how federal employees are using official time: 

  1. Implement new directives, laws, programs

Union volunteers use official time to help their coworkers go over new laws and regulations that are complex and ever changing. If employees don’t understand these directives and laws, they cannot implement them. 

This is especially important at a massive agency like the Department of Veterans Affairs that serves nine million veterans every year and where a single mistake could mean life and death. Read about how a nurse from Minnesota used official time to help her hospital implement a new complex directive on prescription drugs here

In Houston, Texas, employees used official time to work with management on a new program to improve the adjudication of compensation claims filed by veterans seeking benefits at the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Regional Office. As a result, the accuracy rate for claims improved from 74% to 90%, meaning veterans got their correct benefits more quickly. 

  1. Create safe working conditions

Union reps use official time to help identify health and safety hazards in the workplace. When the workplace is safe, workers use less sick leave and workers’ compensation benefits. This is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic. AFGE locals representing employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs, for example, have used official time to make sure federal workers have masks and Personal Protective Equipment and are protected against the virus.  

Keeping government facilities safe also prevents the spread of the virus in local communities. 

  1. Uphold democracy and savetaxpayersmoney on legal fights 

Due process is crucial in a democratic society. Union reps use official time to protect employees from discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation and other factors unrelated to their job performance. It saves taxpayers money by helping resolve workplace problems before they escalate into costly, time-consuming litigation. Employees also use official time to address various workplace incidents, such as the one in which a noose was placed on the chair of an African-American worker at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. 

  1. Reportwaste, fraud, and abuse

Federal employees take the oath of office to serve the American people and protect the Constitution. These employees use official time to blow the whistle on wrongdoing, such as VA management’s attempt to cover up an outbreak of Legionnaires disease that killed at least six veterans and sickened 16 others in Pittsburgh. 

  1. Negotiate contracts

Managers and employees use official time to negotiate a labor contract. Having an agreed-upon labor-management contract benefits both the employer and employees because a contract establishes an agreement that sets working conditions and serves as a reference when disagreements arise. It makes the costs associated with employment more predictable and reduces employee turnover and the costs associated with it. 

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