Union activity by federal employees on the job increased almost 7% in 2009

Barack Obama has brought his community-organizing skills to Washington in one important — and expensive — way, according to a new report from the Office of Personnel Management.  The amount of time on the job spent on official union activities by federal employees increased almost 7% in 2009, costing taxpayers $129 million.  Interestingly, the amount of time spent on “union matters” declined slightly at the same time:

The cost of official time used by federal employees participating in union activities increased nearly 7 percent between fiscal 2008 and fiscal 2009, according to a new report from the Office of Personnel Management.

The report, the subject of a Wednesday hearing on Capitol Hill, found that federal employees spent nearly 3 million hours of official time on union activities in 2009 at a cost of $129 million to taxpayers, an increase of $8 million from fiscal 2008. The number of official time hours used per bargaining unit employee on union matters during fiscal 2009, however, decreased slightly from fiscal 2008. “Official time costs represented less than two-tenths of 1 percent of the civilian personnel budget for federal civil service bargaining unit employees,” Timothy Curry, deputy associate director of partnership and labor relations at OPM, testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, Postal Service and Labor Policy.

“The dollars spent on official time are minuscule compared to the money saved by having a mechanism in place to resolve disputes in a nonadversarial way and promote cooperative labor-management efforts to increase productivity, improve customer service and reduce the costs of doing business,” National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley said in submitted testimony.

Miniscule?  One hundred and twenty-nine million dollars doesn’t exactly sound miniscule. Nor does the report indicate that government efficiency improved 7%.  Most taxpayers would scoff at the notion that customer service improved 7%, and as far as reducing the costs of business, did the federal budget decrease or increase from 2008 to 2009, from 2009 to 2010, and from 2010 to 2011?  Which federal departments got reductions in allocations in FY2010 to support Kelley’s contention?

National Journal reports that the largest amount of time was allocated to “general labor management,” a catch-all category that could include just about anything.  The second-largest amount of time was dedicated to dispute resolution, which one would normally assume should be what union officials should be doing on taxpayer time.  “General labor management” sounds an awful lot like “lobbying on government policy,” although thanks to the lax reporting standards at OPM, we will never get much of an accounting for this time use.

That, however, may change.  Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) has a new bill that would limit union activities during work hours.  It should also require more stringent reporting of the types of activities being funded with taxpayer dollars, at least in terms of personnel costs.