Why Are Taxpayers Paying for Union Activity?

union_3Will Rogers is reported to have once said, “be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.” While there are certainly many areas where we’re not getting what we pay for, one area where the problem is particularly acute is in an obscure federal personnel practice known as “official time.”

Official time is a practice where a government employee is paid, not to do work for you as the taxpayer, but rather to work for the union representing the employees at the agency which employs this individual. The employee keeps their federal position, title, and all the benefits that go with being a federal employee, but works for a union instead of taxpayers. This is a direct subsidy to labor unions because they are getting free labor that, but for the practice, would be an expense they would have to handle out of their own treasury.

In years past, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was in the habit of publishing an annual report on the practice, and the associated costs to taxpayers. In fiscal year 2012, the last year for which OPM has bothered to release the figures, the reported cost to taxpayers was over $157 million. That money could have been saved. While the OPM reports give dollar figures and account for the hours spent by agency officials on official time, they do not disclose how many employees are working 100 percent of the time for unions instead of taxpayers.

To give the public a better understanding on this issue, Americans for Limited Government Foundation has filed a series of records requests using the federal Freedom of Information Act. These requests asked for records from each agency on how many of their employees are working 100 percent of the time for a union.

We have taken the information disclosed to us per these requests and compiled a report showing how many employees are working 100 percent of the time for unions, along with information related to their salary and the total salary cost to taxpayers.

Some of the information we received is staggering.

Woodrow Wilcox


For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation has twenty-six employees that work 100 percent of the time for a union. These employees make as much as $183,300 per year, and their average salary is $141,221. That’s certainly a nice salary, especially when you consider the extensive, and expensive, benefits packages that are on top of this.

The U.S. Postal Service disclosed to us that they have 274 employees who work 100 percent of the time for a union, at a combined cost of over $16 million per year.

Like many areas of waste, fraud, and abuse within the federal government, this one continues year after year. Current law allows agency heads to negotiate with unions regarding how many people you and I as taxpayers will be paying to work for the union, instead of course, doing their actual job.

Next time you hear an agency official complain that they don’t have enough money to handle the things they are supposed to do, remember that they have plenty of areas where they can easily make cuts, and cuts that will not have any effect on their program activities. Spending money on official time is but one area of many where easy cuts could be made.

Additionally, there is an inherent problem with an agency forcing taxpayers to subsidize unions which are advocacy organizations. Unions, of course, then turn around and lobby the government seeking more money and benefits for their members. Just like we should not be using taxpayer dollars to subsidize other advocacy organizations such as the National Rifle Association or the Sierra Club, we should not be subsidizing unions either.

If the National Rifle Association or the Sierra Club want to raise money to fund their operations that is their prerogative. It is not, however, the proper place of the federal government to be funding them, or unions, using your hard-earned tax dollars.



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Nathan Mehrens is president of Americans for Limited Government Foundation. He previously served as ALG’s General Counsel. Before that he was Special Assistant to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor. He previously served as Director of Research and General Counsel for several non-profit organizations that monitor and advocate on labor union issues.
Nathan Mehrens
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