NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Taxpayers Pay for Employees to Engage in Union Activities

February 21, 2013

Around the country, labor unions are financed by taxpayers. The practice, known as "official time" at the federal level and "release time" at the state level, pays government employees to perform union activities unrelated to their government responsibilities. The result costs taxpayers substantial sums of money and needs to be reformed, says Trey Kovacs, a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

  • Taxpayers pay for government employees' wages, pensions and health care benefits while they work for their union on the clock.
  • The practice has cost the federal government an estimated $1 billion since 1998, though haphazard recordkeeping and a lack of transparency make it impossible to know the true cost of union official time.
  • Official time increased from 2.9 million hours in 2008 at a cost of $121 million to 3.4 million hours in 2011 at a cost of $155 million.

With more than 80 unions representing federal workers, use of official time has grown since the 1976 Civil Service Commission ruling that allowed direct government agencies to authorize official time.

  • Official time is recorded by the modern-day Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for one of four purposes: either general labor management, dispute resolution, term bargaining and midterm bargaining.
  • Seventy-seven percent of official time was spent on general labor management.
  • While restrictions keep official time from being used for internal union business, the allotment of federal man-hours means that fewer workers are performing official duties.

Until 2002, federal agencies were not required to report how many employee hours were devoted to union work. In 2008, the Bush administration required agencies to report what activities were conducted on official time along with the amount of time. Under the Obama administration, the OPM stopped annually collecting the oversight data.

At the state level, many states have a "gift clause" that restricts public funds from going to any individual, association or corporations, though most are not in use. The Gift Clause could be used by states to rein in official time or codified in the federal government to have the same effect.  Another legislative initiative seeks to repeal the official time rule for an estimated $686 million in annual savings.

Source: Tony Kovacs, "Official Time: Timepayers Paying for Union Work Is Officially a Scam," Capital Research Center, February 4, 2013.


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