Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

It’s Official: Doing Union Work On The Job Takes Time

As The Washington Examiner reports, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has finished calculating the time and costs of federal union “official time” for fiscal year 2011. “Official time” or “release time” is the time that union officials spend on dealing with union representational matters while they are being paid by the employer–in this case, the federal government. The numbers are staggering:  3,395,187 total hours and an estimated cost of $155,573,739.25. OPM says that the cost comes to about one-tenth of one percent of the total payroll.

But remember that union members have to pay dues—so shouldn’t the dues cover official time?

That’s not the case. OPM explains:

Official time is available for representational tasks only. It is therefore not available:

  • for conducting internal union business (such as union elections or conventions); or,
  • for any other purpose not tied directly to representation of bargaining unit employees in matters concerning conditions of employment.

So although it doesn’t cover all union activity, it’s still a hefty subsidy.

This isn’t only a problem at the federal level. The police union in Camden, New Jersey, put official time at the center of its negotiations with the city. This eventually led to the disbanding of the force.

Mallory Factor, author of Shadowbosses wrote in The Wall Street Journal that the practice is “an enormous subsidy to public-employee unions.” He also noted where, at the state level, such arrangements may face legal trouble:

All this persists even though 47 states have “gift clauses” in their constitutions that prohibit government subsidies to private entities. In June, Arizona’s Goldwater Institute successfully challenged official time for Phoenix police union officials. Arizona’s Superior Court enjoined the practice, concluding that official time violated Arizona’s gift clause because the union, not the city, “determines how the money is spent, by whom, and when.”

Such challenges to official time are in their infancy—another is pending in Albuquerque, N.M.—but with time they should become more widespread.

Sean Higgins at the Examiner says that although these numbers are higher than recent years, it is still less than the peak of 4,765,484 hours in 2002.

Categories: Center for Union Facts