The Federal Service Impasses Panel has backed a limit on official time of one hour per year per member of a bargaining unit, the figure included in one of President Trump’s 2018 executive orders on union-related matters but below even what the agency in the case was willing to offer.
The decision in a dispute between the Association of Administrative Law Judges and the SSA—where most of the government’s ALJs work—could set precedent on how the panel will rule on impasses over amounts and allowable uses of official time, a key issue for unions.
The decision recounted that past contracts between the two have provided for an average of about 11 hours of official time per unit employee per year; official time can be used for negotiations and certain other purposes allowed by federal labor-management law. The agency at first offered 1.66 hours per employee but later raised its offer to 3 hours, saying that would be consistent with contracts with two other unions that allow for about 2.7 and 3.7 days.
The orders “are an important source of public policy guidance for the Panel and an official time amount in excess of 1 hour per bargaining unit employee should ordinarily not be considered reasonable, necessary, and in the public interest,” the decision said. It said that neither the union nor the agency—even though willing to agree to more—had shown why any other figure would merit an exception to that standard.
It further rejected the union’s argument that in prior decisions the Panel had agreed that higher amounts met the definition, saying that those decisions had been issued while a court injunction against those provisions in the order was still in effect. That injunction was lifted last fall.
The panel did agree with the union on one point: continuing to use the term “official time” in the contract rather that “union time” as the agency had sought; the executive orders use the term “taxpayer-funded union time.” However, the panel stressed that the labor law uses the term “official time.”