The Post Office lost $5.6B dollars in fiscal year 2016. (To be fair, they actually showed a small profit, but the federal government forced them to pony up $5.8B to fund future retiree pension costs. That’s a story for another day, however.) But they might have made up a bit of that cash if they weren’t paying overtime costs to cover workers in battleground states who took unpaid leave to go campaign for Hillary Clinton. If that sounds like the sort of thing which would never happen where you work, well… you’re probably right. But once again we need to look no further than the involvement of the union which represents your letter carriers. (Government Executive)

The U.S. Postal Service spent $90,000 on overtime to cover for employees who took time off to campaign in advance of the 2016 election, according to a new report.

Unionized postal workers are allowed to take unpaid leave to engage in official activities on behalf of their labor groups, according to the USPS inspector general, but the agency did not follow proper protocols to ensure it should have granted the time off. Ninety-seven letter carriers across the country took leave without pay to “participate in political activities on behalf of” the National Association of Letter Carriers in the months leading up to the November election.

While the practice of allowing employees to take leave without pay to conduct union business is legal, a spokesperson for the Office of Special Counsel said it is coordinating with the Postal Service’s IG to determine whether any of the employees violated the Hatch Act.

To be fair, neither the article nor the IG report specifically say that the union members were campaigning for Hillary Clinton in those battleground states, but I don’t think we need to call in Sherlock Holmes on this one. Look no further than the NALC endorsement statement from June of 2016.

Following a tremendously hard-fought primary process, NALC is proud to endorse former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to serve as the next president of the United States.

Secretary Clinton has a long history of supporting the issues most important to letter carriers—a strong Postal Service, collective-bargaining rights for postal employees and decent pay and benefits for all American workers. She has been a friend of NALC since her first meeting with us in 1994.

Do we really think that any of the union bosses in the affected regions were really giving their people time off to go get out the vote for Trump? Enough said.

As to the implications of the report, there are a couple of layers to this onion and the Inspector General is looking into all the angles. At first glance I’m not seeing where this would really run afoul of the Hatch Act. Federal employees are broken down into classifications of “Further Restricted” and “Less Restricted” workers for these purposes and the letter carriers would definitely fall into the latter category. If they were on unpaid leave while doing campaign work then it eliminates most of the peril because the lion’s share of the prohibitions listed only apply while the employee is “on duty.” There is one caveat about barring the use of their official title or authority when engaging in political activity, but unless it could be shown that they were wearing their uniform while campaigning or specifically telling people that they were postal workers and the Post Office “supported Hillary” or something similar, it probably wouldn’t apply.

The bigger question is on the policy angle, since the unions are only supposed to authorize such absences if it wouldn’t impose too much of a burden on the unit to have the workers be absent. If the union leaders suddenly cut a bunch of people loose to go campaign without making arrangements to ensure their workload was covered then they might run into trouble. Running up almost $100K in unanticipated overtime costs sounds like it might fill the bill.

Either way, even if this all winds up staying inside the boundaries of what’s legal, it’s yet another example of what happens when you mix politics and unions inside of federal government service. Should we really be unleashing our postal carriers to campaign for one specific party or candidate when they’re supposed to be on the job? If nothing else, the optics of it stink to high heaven.