Last week we looked at a story about how the Postal Service had released a number of workers for unpaid leave in various swing states so they could go out and campaign for Hillary Clinton. One of the only seeming areas of interest in that report was the large amount of overtime pay which was run up so other workers could cover for the absent GOTV crew. A second issue was raised in that report concerning whether or not there might have been a Hatch Act violation going on.
I reached my own initial conclusions on that question, leaning toward thinking that it wouldn’t apply in this case. But not everyone agrees that all of this activity was on the up and up. This story from Fox News informs us that one watchdog group thinks they were potentially breaking the law and hearings in Congress are underway to get to the bottom of it.
The United States Postal Service violated federal law by letting employees do union-funded work for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and other Democratic candidates while on leave from the agency, according to an Office of Special Counsel report obtained by Fox News.
The OSC determined the USPS “engaged in systemic violations” of the Hatch Act, a federal law that limits certain political activities of federal employees. While employees are allowed to do some political work on leave, the report said the Postal Service showed a “bias” favoring the union’s 2016 campaign operation.
The investigation was launched months ago after Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., brought constituent complaints to the OSC in October. The constituent, identified as a USPS employee, was concerned the Postal Service “incurred unnecessary overtime costs” and “improperly coordinated” with the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) when it released members for several weeks of “union official” leave without pay to participate in campaign work.
This is a lengthy report, but they’re touching on aspects of the Hatch Act which I didn’t dig into when we first examined it. I had been looking at the individual actions of specific carriers who were on unpaid leave. Since the majority of the provisions of the Hatch Act which might apply only speak to actions taken while the employee is “on duty” they looked to be in the clear.
But the Office of Special Counsel isn’t looking at the actions of the individual carriers. They’re putting a magnifying glass on the Postal Service as a whole as well as their union. The overall directive to release the workers to go campaign, combined with the fact that the union had specifically endorsed Hillary Clinton, resulted in “an institutional bias in favor of NALC’s endorsed political candidates, which the Hatch Act prohibits.”
Our Postmaster General, Megan Brennan, is trying to cover their tracks by saying that the USPS didn’t tell the union which candidate to endorse so they must be in the clear. She’s also attempting to draw a distinction between the USPS and the union.
“I also note that our postal unions do not speak for the Postal Service, and the Postal Service does not speak for our unions,” Brennan wrote in her prepared testimony, insisting USPS did not seek to assist the NALC’s “favored candidates.” “This especially applies in a political context, but it is inherent in any collective bargaining relationship.”
That’s how it’s supposed to be on paper and there are no doubt many individual postal carriers who are not Democrats, but we all know the reality is far different. This is simply one more example of the toxic soup we create when the government workers / public sector unions have their hands in the cookie jar with the operation of any aspect of government, even a quasi-independent outfit like the USPS. Unfortunately, the wording of the Hatch Act is rather vague on some of these more sweeping principles so it’s hard to say if there will be any official fallout from it, but the Senate Homeland Security Committee is holding hearings on the matter this week.