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Ripon Forum - Union Work on the Taxpayers' Dime

Op-Ed

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Location: Washington, DC

By Rep Dennis Ross

Each day, our taxpayer dollars are wasted. They are wasted on countless projects and activities including failed energy programs that are propped up by our administration, on government bailouts of billion-dollar private companies, and on federal employees conducting union business on official taxpayer time.

In November 2012, I along with my colleagues requested a report on union activities by federal employees on work time. In February of this year, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) complied and provided us with the data.

Did you know that in 2011 (the most recent year for which they had data), federal employees spent roughly 3.4 million hours -- at a cost of $155 million-- conducting union business while on duty? This is an almost 10 percent increase from 2010 in time spent on representational duties. If the average employee works 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year, there would be 1,700 federal employees whose sole job is to conduct union business.

Did you know that in 2011 (the most recent year for which they had data), federal employees spent roughly 3.4 million hours -- at a cost of $155 million-- conducting union business while on duty?

We are almost $17 trillion in debt. I believe in fair representation; however, we must ensure that we are spending the people's hard-earned money wisely. If employees who are paid by taxpayer dollars want to conduct union activities, they should do it on their own time; not during their 40-hour work week paid for by American taxpayers.

Last Congress, Rep. Phil Gingrey and I started working together on two pieces of legislation that would address the use of work time by federal employees, specifically as it pertains to union activities.

The purpose of our efforts was two-fold: to determine how much time federal employees spend on union activities; and to eliminate the use of these employees being allowed to conduct union activities on work time.

I introduced H.R. 568, The Official Time Reporting Act. This bill would require OPM to submit an annual report to Congress on the use of official time by federal employees. Official time is defined as any period of time given to a federal employee to perform representational or consultative functions and during which the employee would otherwise be in a duty status.

According to OPM, union representatives could participate in a number of activities while on official time, including "representing bargaining unit employees in meetings," and "assisting the agency in communicating important information about workplace matters to employees." While these sound like noble causes, there are legitimate concerns that they are applied very broadly.

The sole job of some employees is to serve as a union representative. These employees are paid for by the federal government.

Federal employees shouldn't be working to advance policies that don't necessarily square with the policy preferences of those same taxpayers

The goal of my legislation is keep track of the time spent by federal employees on union duties. I am also an original cosponsor of H.R. 107. This bill would end the practice of union members using taxpayer dollars to conduct union activities. It is estimated that this wasted time costs taxpayers $1.3 billion over 10 years. Now that we know how many work hours are spent, we must work to eliminate this waste. Federal employees shouldn't be working to advance policies that don't necessarily square with the policy preferences of those same taxpayers. At a time when we are almost $17 trillion in debt, we need to ensure that we are cutting all wasteful and excessive government spending.

These bills go hand-in-hand. In order to provide greater government transparency and know how federal employees spend their time, we would need to track it, and Congress, which has oversight, should be able to review that time used. Now that we know how much time is spent, we must protect the American taxpayer and eliminate the use of federal employees conducting union activities during work hours.

Taxpayers should not foot the bill for union activities. If federal employees want to engage in union activities, they should not do it on their own dime. We must work to end this wasteful spending habit and save money. RF


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