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Official time in the cross hairs: Is it the right target?

In the labor relations model that has developed in the United States, the perception that dominates is that it is adversarial. Workers are on one side leveraging the strength of their numbers to press demands for better wages and conditions. On the other side is business, looking to maintain its wealth.

That doesn't quite fit that way things work where government is concerned. Delivery of public services isn't profit driven. Law mandates action. Laws also protect public servants against abuses that might arise due to a political wind change.

Proposed change on the table

The most recent elections have brought the Republican Party to its strongest position of power in decades. Despite some early legislative missteps, one area that is seeing action is government workforce reform. Specifically in the cross hairs is what the Trump administration sees as federal labor union abuse of official time.

Official time is a practice reflecting that labor relations in government are less adversarial and more collaborative. Where it is used, workers who represent the unions are allowed to perform union functions on government time. It's important to note that these federal employee unions are required by law to represent all workers, not just dues-paying members.

Opponents of official time say it's a taxpayer subsidy of union work that needs to change. To that end, the House is considering legislation that would limit the practice or eliminate it. Proponents of official time say this notion is misguided and fails to consider how official time improves government services.

To make that point, a leader of an American Federation of Government Employees local in Minnesota recently made rounds on Capitol Hill. The nurse with the Veterans Administration HealthCare System has been on 100 percent official time since becoming the local president – with management approval.

While that might seem abusive, she told lawmakers her work involves discussing administrative policies and getting them executed by workers. She is also dedicated to resolving inter-employee disputes and mentoring and training new employees. And she says all her efforts are aimed at improving services to veterans, which include her father and her son.

In her view, her union duties support the overall mission of the VA and limiting that work could only do harm.

Whether the law changes, we can only wait and see. Meantime, experienced attorneys are at hand to support workers in exercising their rights under the law.

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