Paid time for federal-union activities grew in 2011

(Mark Gail/Washington Post) (Mark Gail/Washington Post)

Government costs for the paid time that federal employees spend on union activities in 2011 grew by nearly 12 percent over the previous year, reaching $156 million, according to a report released Friday by the Office of Personnel Management.

“Official time,” as the hours are known, rose during that period by nearly 10 percent.

The average number of official hours per employee also increased 8 percent to 2.82 hours for each worker in 2011, up from 2.61 in 2010.

The OPM credited the increase to a jump in the number of union-represented employees, increased collective bargaining in several large agencies, growing use of labor-management forums and greater emphasis “on accurately documenting official time compared to previous years.”

The number of union-represented non-Postal Service federal employees rose by about 1.4 percent in 2011 compared to the previous year, totaling 1.2 million workers, according to the agency’s report.

Federal law allows official time for union activities such as collective bargaining, representing workers in grievances and disciplinary matters or communicating information about workplace issues. It does not pay for internal union business or dealing with matters unrelated to the conditions of employment.

In 2009, President Obama issued an executive order calling for labor-management workshops as a “non-adversarial forum for managers, employees, and employees’ union representatives to discuss Government operations,” with a goal to “improve the productivity and effectiveness of the Federal Government.”

Some Republican lawmakers have tried to abolish or severely limit official time. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) sponsored legislation in 2011 to end its use, and he proposed a similar bill this year.

The OPM report said that official time amounted to about 3.4 million hours in 2011, totaling 0.1 percent of the overall cost for federal salaries and benefits.

For more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics.

To connect with Josh Hicks, follow him on Twitter, subscribe to his Facebook page or e-mail hicksja@washpost.com.

E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

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