Audit Into Costly Union Giveaway Stopped For Now

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An independent audit into a policy that allows Fairfax County, Va., employees to do union work while on the clock at their jobs was rejected Tuesday during a county board of supervisors meeting.

Officials says the independent audit is unnecessary because, they revealed, their own internal investigation was already ongoing. County Supervisor Pat Herrity, who was pursuing the audit, is not convinced. He argued the policy, known as Organizational Leave, should be reviewed independently.

“We have an independent auditor in place in order to do independent reviews,” Herrity told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “That’s what we need to do this.”

Herrity suspects the internal review will be done sometime in November or December, at which point he will try again to launch an independent audit. An outside look could help at determining costs and what mechanisms are in place to make sure participants don’t abuse the law. It could also help determine if the practice is even legal under state law.

There are few limits on how much county workers can participate in the policy. It was first uncovered in September by the Center on National Labor Policy (CNLP) through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

“There was already a review going on by staff and they wanted to let them finish it,” Herrity noted. “The review was started after the FOIA request.”

The policy allows 10 designated public sector unions 240 taxpayer-funded hours each of political lobbying with an additional 240 hours each for conventions, training and meetings. It’s also very costly at $5.8 million just to hire substitutes for teachers participating in the practice.

Additionally, the school system does not have a fixed limit on hours. For some other union activity, like processing grievance complaints, county workers are allowed unlimited hours. While performing union work, public employees get the same taxpayer funded pay and benefits as if they were doing their normal duties.

Beyond the cost, having the policy implemented in Fairfax may actually be against state law. A report by CNLP questioned the legality of having the policy in Virgina. Herrity noted there is too little information to know for sure but believes an independent audit could also help determine if its legal.

“The County allows employees to participate in a number of activities without requiring the use of personal leave,” Department of Human Resources Director Susan Woodruff told TheDCNF over email. “I am not aware of any legal restrictions on an employer permitting these types of activities on County time.”

Woodruff lists volunteer activities, serving on certain county boards, and attendance at training or conferences among others as examples of how county workers could do activities outside their normal roles. The question of legality arises from a state law banning collective bargaining agreements. No county, municipal, or public official has any authority to recognize a labor union or other employee association as a bargaining agent.

In other states and federal agencies that have similar policies, the amount of union work done on salary time is usually determined by a collective bargaining agreement. On the federal level the policy is referred to as “official time” and in states it is known as “release time.” The state also has a no gift clause policy, meaning no state agency or subdivision can contribute to a private organization unless it is clear there will be a direct benefit to the public.

“In FY 2015, approximately 840 hours were spent by officers of  eleven employee groups on such activities,” Woodruff noted. “County time and attendance records are audited periodically to ensure compliance with payroll procedures and regulations.  We rely on both the employee group and the agency where the employee works to ensure accurate record keeping as well.

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

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