The Postal Service is revising its policies on granting employees leave without pay for politically related purposes through their unions after a finding by the Office of Special Counsel that the agency had violated the Hatch Act in 2016.
The OSC made its determination after the postal IG referred findings of an investigation into the grant of LWOP to nearly 100 carriers, involving some 2,700 days off, belonging to the National Association of Letter Carriers for work on partisan campaigns on behalf of the union’s favored candidates, including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The IG concluded that despite their concerns about shortages of employees, local managers “felt compelled” to let them take the unpaid time off under orders from the headquarters labor relations office. That office in turn was following a practice going back two decades of approving, in the name of good relations with the union, the union’s requests that certain employees be given LWOP. The IG found that the practice “circumvented Postal Service policy and the ability of operations supervisors to manage work at their local offices” and referred the issue to the OSC for possible Hatch Act violations.
That agency in turn “concluded that the USPS practice of facilitating and directing carrier releases for the union’s political activity resulted in an institutional bias in favor of NALC’s endorsed political candidates, which the Hatch Act prohibits,” an official told a Senate hearing. However, it did not recommend disciplinary action, saying the lower-level managers were only following instructions from headquarters officials, who in turn were following a long-standing agency practice. It was the union, not postal management, that chose the employees, it added.
USPS told the hearing that in response, it will exclude political activity from the acceptable uses of LWOP for union purposes, that it will not require or suggest that union members be released to engage in political activity, and that it will expand its internal communications about the Hatch Act restrictions on political activity.