Work time spent on union activities at a 7-year high for feds

Monday - 2/18/2013, 5:11am EST

Jason Miller, executive editor, Federal News Radio

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The amount of time federal employees spend working on union activities while on the job is at its highest rate in seven years.

Federal employees, on average, spent 2.82 hours on union-related work in fiscal 2011 as compared to 2.61 hours in 2010, according to a new report from the Office of Personnel Management.

"The Office of Personnel Management emphasizes that labor and management have a shared responsibility to ensure that official time is authorized and used appropriately," the agency stated in the report released Friday. "OPM expects labor and management to develop sensible arrangements for official time that meet the needs and expectations of agencies, employees and the ultimate customers-the American people."

Overall, employees spent 3,395,187 hours working on union activities in 2011, up from 3,096,018 in 2010. Total official time hours increased in each of the first four years during the Obama administration.

The more than 3.3 million hours spent on union work was the highest since 2004, when employees spent more than 3.8 million hours on union activities while on the job.

OPM said 18 of 61 agencies reported reductions in the number of official time hours used, with the Federal Trade Commission seeing a decrease of 67 percent, the Energy Department by 15 percent and the Department of Health and Human Services dropping 26 percent among the largest agencies.

Total Official Time Hours - 2007-2011
Year Total Official Time Hours Rate (hours per Bargaining Unit Employee)

FY 2011

3,395,187

2.82

FY 2010

3,096,018

2.61

FY 2009

2,991,378

2.58

FY 2008

2,893,922

2.60

FY 2007

2,800,741

2.69

Among the larger agencies that saw the biggest increases in official time hours used were the Homeland Security Department, which went up by 31 percent; the Veterans Affairs Department, which increased by 23 percent; and the Labor Department, which rose by 34 percent.

OPM also said the cost of official time to the government was more than $155.7 million, an increase of 11.86 percent over 2010, when the cost was more than $139 million.

"This increase reflects, in part, the increased number of bargaining unit employees and the corresponding increase in official time usage governmentwide," OPM stated.

OPM said the number of non-postal federal civil service bargaining unit employees increased by 17,048 employees in 2011 as compared to 2010.

The final report turned in figures different than OPM projected in November when it said official time went up by 10.85 percent and the cost rose by 13 percent.

Employees spent a majority of the time working on general labor-management issues, more than 2.5 million out of more than 3.3 million, while dispute resolution was a distant second with employees spending more than 516,000 hours.

OPM said it gathers official time figures from the automated time-and-attendance systems at each agency that go through the Enterprise Human Resources Integration (EHRI) system. Official time falls into four categories:

  • Term negotiations

  • Mid-term negotiations

  • Dispute resolution

  • General labor-management relations
The report is likely to attract the attention of Congress. House lawmakers conducted a hearing in 2011 on official time with some calling these hours worked by employees wasted productivity.

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) introduced the Federal Employee Accountability Act in 2011, and reintroduced it again Jan. 3, which would do away with official time.

Gingrey's two-page bill, H.R. 107, has 21 co-sponsors and was referred to the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) also introduced a bill, H.R. 568, Feb. 6 to require OPM to submit an annual report to Congress on the use of official time by employees. The bill also was referred to the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

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