Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., has introduced a bill that would outlaw the use of official time by federal employees who volunteer to be union representatives to help improve agency operations and make federal agencies a better place to work.
The text of the bill is not yet available, but according to Congress.gov, the bill, H.R. 4090, would “amend title 5, United States Code, to eliminate the use of official time by federal employees.”
Anti-worker, anti-union politicians like Rooney are pushing to end official time because official time gives employees a say in their working conditions and protects them against unfair treatment, discrimination, and retaliation. The anti-worker Trump administration’s executive orders are also limiting the use of official time with the same ultimate goal of doing away with workplace rights and unions.
Why we have official time
Official time is the system Congress established in 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 drug 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.
2. 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. At the Bureau of Prisons, for example, employees used official time to successfully negotiate equipping federal correctional officers with pepper spray to keep officers safe on the job. Keeping government facilities safe also prevents injuries to the American people who visit a government office.
3. Uphold democracy and save taxpayers money 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.
4. Report waste, 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.
5. 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.
We need official time
Official time reduces employee turnover, improves customer service, and prevents costly litigation. For more information about official time, click here.