FOIA: 201 IRS employees work full-time on union business

Caroline May | Reporter

In a response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from Americans for Limited Government, the Internal Revenue Service revealed this month that 201 of its employees work full-time on union activities.

“A lot of people are not aware that under federal law, a federal agency is allowed to enter into a collective bargaining agreement with a union that has provisions where employees of the agency, in this case the IRS, are allowed to do union work on the taxpayer’s time and get paid for it,” ALG president and Nathan Mehrens explained in an interview with The Daily Caller.

As Office of Personnel Management documents explain, the performance of union duties instead of official government business is allowed, as it is a part of the government’s collective bargaining system.

“‘Official time,’ authorized by 5 U.S.C. 7131, is a core component of the federal government’s carefully crafted collective bargaining system,” OPM explains in its most recent “Official Time Usage in the Federal Government” report. “Official time is time spent by Federal employees performing representational work for a bargaining unit in lieu of their regularly assigned work. It allows unions to satisfy their duty of fair representation to members and non-members alike.”

“In our opinion it is something that shouldn’t be allowed,” Mehrens, a former Department of Labor attorney under President George W. Bush, said.

“It is a subsidy to a private entity to do the private entity’s job,” he added. “Why should we as taxpayers be paying for this? It is not as if taxpayers are paying to subsidize my organization.”

The redacted list of 201 IRS employees, whose names have been blacked out, features only those employees who are entirely engaged in union work. The list does not include employees who spend part of their time on government work and other portions on union work, according to ALG.

The list of 201 employees offers job titles, salary information, and some location information. The job titles appear innocuous and make the work appear to be focused on agency business rather than union business. Titles include “Internal Revenue Agent,” “Revenue Officer,” “Tax Specialist,” “Rev Officer,” “Clerk,” “Contact Representative,” “Case Advocate,” and the like. Some boast six-figure salaries, with the highest paid employee on the list earning $138,092.

Mehrens explained that in many cases employees are hired for a certain job classification but end up doing union work.

“This person was hired to file things,” Mehrens said of one of the employees listed on the documents under the job title “File Clerk.” ”But instead of filing things this person is doing union work. So somebody else presumably has to pick up the slack and handle that. There is not a job classification for ‘union steward’… so they are in these positions and instead of actually doing the work that would fit the job classification they are basically excused from doing that job in order to work on behalf of the union.”

The IRS is not the only federal agency where many employees spend all their work hours on union business. The Office of Personnel Management revealed that in 2011 — the most recent report available — bargaining employees at all federal agencies spent a total of 3,395,187 hours performing representational work, at a cost of approximately $155 million.

At least two bills have been filed this year attempting to confront this issue in the House.

In January Georgia Republican Rep. Phil Gingrey introduced legislation repealing the law allowing federal employees to perform union activities.

“This bill eliminates use of ‘official time.’ During the Carter administration, a law was enacted allowing federal employees to perform union activities — during the official work day — on the taxpayers’ dime,” Gingrey’s blog explained about his “Federal Employee Accountability Act.” “Use of official time is estimated to cost taxpayers $1.3 billion over 10 years. Repealing official time will save taxpayers money, provide greater government transparency and increase oversight of federal employees.”

Florida Republican Rep. Dennis Ross introduced legislation in February to require OPM to submit an annual report to Congress on federal employee’s use of “official time”

“At a time when our country is more than $16 trillion in debt, we need to ensure that we are cutting all wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars, no matter for which political side the union employees are advocating,” Ross, who was an original co-sponsor of Gingrey’s Federal Employee Accountability Act, said in a statement at the time.

Both bills have been referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

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