Feb 28, 2017

NAGE/IBPO Attends Official Time Hearing

On Thursday, February 16, 2017, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on Government Operations held a hearing on the use of official time at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), following the Government Accountability Office (GAO) release of a report indicating that official time at the VA was poorly tracked. Official time gives union representatives the ability to perform approved representational duties on behalf of bargaining unit employees and participate in meetings with management during work hours. Many republicans on the committee understood the importance of unions and the necessity of official time, however, many became frustrated with how it is tracked by the VA.
Federal employee unions are legally required to represent ALL bargaining unit employees, regardless of whether they pay dues or not. In exchange for representing all employees without regard to membership, the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 granted federal employee unions official time. Under this law, federal employees who serve as union representatives are allowed to use official time to engage in negotiations and perform representational activities on duty time.  The amount of official time is negotiated between the agency and the union and is only the amount deemed necessary and in the public interest.
Official time can only be used for representational duties such as working with management to resolve workplace disputes before they go to costly litigation and representing employees throughout the grievance process. It is also used to negotiate collective bargaining agreements and to help set working conditions and safety procedures. Official time cannot be used to conduct internal union matters, recruit new members, participate in political activities, or hold union elections.
The GAO report showed how official time is beneficial to both the union and the agency, citing opinions from local officials, managers, and employees. The report found that many managers and union officials thought official time led to improved relationships between management and labor by providing union officials with time to build and maintain a good rapport with managers.

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Susan Walsh/AP
Where trade unions are most firmly organized, there are the rights of the people most respected. - Samuel Gompers
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