State of the Unions

Recently, the General Accounting Office looked into on-the-taxpayer-clock union activities by the nearly 2 million federal employees represented by unions. The GAO investigated practices at the Postal Service, Veterans Affairs, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Social Security Administration, which are represented by a total of 10 different unions. The results are mind-boggling, both for what they tell and what they cannot tell. During fiscal 1995, for instance, SSA, with 52,000 collective-bargaining employees, reported 404,000 hours charged to union activities at an estimated salary cost of $11.4 million to taxpayers. The Postal Service, with 751,000 union employees, racked up 1.7 million hours, at an estimated cost of $29.2 million. The GAO suggests, however, that the time estimates are extremely low and inaccurate. Stressing that designated federal employees have a legal right to do union activities such as contract negotiations and grievance procedures on the job, the GAO also underscored that the four agencies had no way of knowing whether they were being billed for legitimate tasks. Veterans Affairs, for instance, could not estimate how many hours employees spent on union-related activities. And three of the four agencies did not even know how many employees were authorized to charge time to union activities. "Insufficient data exist on the amount of official time used for union activities, the cost of the time, and the number of people using that time," the GAO's Timothy P. Bowling told Congress.

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