How Unions Are Being Given Free Rein To Use Public Employees

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Public sector unions in Fairfax County, Va. aren’t just allowed 240 taxpayer-funded hours of political lobbying, they are also solely responsible for tracking whether they surpass the limit.

The lobbying is performed by county employees in place of their actual jobs. It may also include other political activities. The practice is known as official time on the federal level and release time in the states. Rather than the county or some other external review, it is solely up to the very unions that benefit from the policy to track the hours. This despite regulations compelling the county to audit the time spent on release time.

Essentially the public sector unions are responsible for making sure they do not surpass the 240 hours of taxpayer-funded political lobbying they are afforded. According to documents provided to The Daily Caller News Foundation, the county doesn’t even have information about the amount of hours spent on release time. The county puts full trust in the unions to track honestly and not surpass the 240 hour limit.

The documents were first obtained by the Center on National Labor Policy through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. For some other union activity, like processing grievance complaints, county workers are allowed unlimited hours of release time. While performing union work, public employees get the same taxpayer-funded pay and benefits as if they were doing their normal duties.

Additionally, it is unusual for Fairfax County to even have a release time policy since Virginia is a right-to-work state. The policy bans public sector collective bargaining agreements and any mandatory union dues. Release time is most often determined by the public employee collective bargaining agreement. It is so unusual that county supervisor Pat Herrity was unaware the policy was in place.

Herrity told TheDCNF that he plans to take the issue to the auditor for the board of supervisors. An investigation would likely only take a few months or so. The hope would be to find out the specifics of the policy and how much of the county budget is going towards it.

In general the estimates of how much the policy costs have been hard to track. According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, it has cost the federal government at least $1 billion between 1998 and 2013. The exact amount may be much higher, however, due to bad recordkeeping and a lack of transparency.

Official time may have also played a major role in the recent scandal at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. A 2014 report from the Capital Research Center found that many veterans may have died as a result of healthcare officials doing union work instead of their job.

Fairfax County employees that work for the police, library, park authority, sheriff office and town hall have all used release time. The designated unions include the Fairfax Coalition of Police Local 5000, AFSCME and Fairfax County Government Employees Union among others.

The 10 designated unions and Fairfax County did not respond to requests for comment from TheDCNF.

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