Virginia Lawmaker Points out the Elephant in the Room

Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia likes to tell it like it is, and he did exactly that at a congressional hearing on so-called official time, a government practice in which employees who are union volunteers are allowed certain hours in their work days to help improve government operations.

After listening to his colleagues and their anti-worker witnesses talk about how official time was all bad, Connolly came to a conclusion: these people were being intellectually dishonest. There is overwhelming evidence of how union volunteers are using official time to help improve agency missions, protect whistleblowers, help agencies and employees resolve workplace disputes, and save taxpayers dollar. But his colleagues and their ideologically-skewed witnesses didn’t focus on that or the fact that the law that set up official time was passed overwhelmingly with support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in 1978.

“This hearing is really an attack on the unions,” Connolly announced. “You don’t like the fact that they’re giving money to the Democrats and that they are active.”

Conolly reminded people that billionaires like the Koch brothers are active too, and they just got a massive tax cut because they give heavily to the Republicans.

There should be a focus on the many benefits of official time, not just the cost, Connolly said.

Darrell West, who has studied government for decades, agreed. West, vice president and director of Governance Studies at Brookings Institution, said official time is an important tool for agencies to improve their operations. Cutting official time would undermine agency missions and curtail employees’ rights guaranteed in the Constitution.

West also pointed out that the activities carried out under official time are allowed under the law and that all official time hours must be approved by supervisors.

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