Issue Briefs

Following is an explanation from a recent OPM report of the allowable uses of “official time” as well as a summary of the usage rate in 2014 as compared with the prior accounting, covering 2012.

The Federal Government’s labor-management relations program has evolved from a 1962 Executive Order granting limited collective bargaining rights to a formal collective bargaining program established by statute. A landmark piece of legislation, Title VII of the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) of 1978, also known as the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (Statute), codified in Chapter 71 of Title 5 of the United States Code, has served as the foundation for labor-management relations in the Federal Government since it became effective.

Official Time

The Statute establishes a collective bargaining system that is tailored to the unique concerns of the Federal Government, carefully balancing the interests of the public, agency management, and employees. For example, Federal employees are prohibited by law from striking as a means to redress grievances with their employers. In addition, many of the terms and conditions of employment of a Federal employee (including pay and benefits for most employees) are set by law and not subject to bargaining. This includes, at most Federal agencies, wages and benefits. Other working conditions are limited in bargaining by a broad management rights provision. This includes decisions relating to the right to assign work to employees and the right to determine internal security practices. The Statute further specifies that its provisions should be interpreted “in a manner consistent with the requirements of an effective and efficient government.”

“Official time,” as authorized by 5 U.S.C. § 7131, is a core component of the Federal Government’s carefully crafted collective bargaining system. 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.

The Statute discusses official time in four sections. First, section 7131(a) discusses official time in the context of collective bargaining agreement negotiations:

[a]ny employee representing an exclusive representative in the negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement under this chapter shall be authorized official time for such purposes, including attendance at impasse proceeding, during the time the employee otherwise would be in a duty status. The number of employees for whom official time is authorized under this subsection shall not exceed the number of individuals designated as representing the agency for such purposes.

Second, the Statute excludes the use of official time for activities that constitute internal union business which includes solicitation of membership, elections of labor organization officials, and collection of dues.

Third, section 7131(c) discusses when official time might be authorized for proceedings before the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), stating, “Except as provided in subsection (a), the Authority shall determine whether any employee participating for, or on behalf of, a labor organization in any phase of proceedings before the Authority shall be authorized official time for such purpose during the time the employee otherwise would be in a duty status.”

Finally, section 7131(d) sets forth the general provisions governing all other requests for official time:

Except as provided in the preceding subsections of this section – (1) any employee representing an exclusive representative, or (2) in connection with any other matter covered by this chapter, any employee in an appropriate unit represented by an exclusive representative, shall be granted official time in any amount the agency and the exclusive representative involved agree to be reasonable, necessary, and in the public interest.

The question of what constitutes what is “reasonable, necessary, and in the public interest” has been interpreted by the FLRA to include:

 participation in labor-management workgroups;

 representation of bargaining unit employees in meetings;

 negotiation of contracts and other collective bargaining agreements;

 participation in proceedings before the FLRA;

 representation of employees in grievances and disciplinary actions; and

 other matters covered by the Statute, so long as the agency and union agree that the amount of time is reasonable, necessary, and in the public interest.

Official Time Statistics for Fiscal Year 2014

Labor and management have a shared responsibility to ensure that official time is authorized and used appropriately. Labor and management must develop sensible arrangements for official time that respects the Statute’s goals of promoting collective bargaining but honors the Statute’s command that its provisions be interpreted to promote an effective and efficient government. Labor and management should also ensure that appropriate recordkeeping mechanisms are utilized for tracking and recording official time. While there is no uniform requirement concerning the degree and specificity of records kept for this purpose, OPM provides guidance to agencies to record official time by using the following categories: (1) Term Negotiations; (2) Mid-Term Negotiations; (3) Dispute Resolution; and (4) General Labor-Management Relations.

In collecting the official time data for this report, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) gathered data from automated time and attendance systems via the Enterprise Human Resources Integration (EHRI) system. Agencies that report official time data via EHRI were asked to verify the official time hours used by employee representatives within their organizations, and to validate how those hours were used within the four predefined categories. Executive departments and agencies, as well as the Government Printing Office and U.S. Capitol Police, are covered in this report. Non-appropriated fund instrumentalities described in 5 U.S.C. 2105(c) are not covered in this report.

Each agency that reported official time data electronically received a consolidated report, encompassing all agency subcomponents, of their official time usage within each of the four categories. For the FY 2014 official time data call, OPM requested explanations for the basis of any discrepancies between OPM’s EHRI data and the data reported by an agency. This change was in accordance with the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) recommendations in its report “LABOR RELATIONS ACTIVITIES: Actions Needed to Improve Tracking and Reporting of the Use and Cost of Official Time”. In instances where agencies identified corrections to the data reported to OPM’s EHRI system, they were asked to indicate (a) whether the agency is aware of the cause of the discrepancy; (b) what efforts, if any, will be made to correct the data; and (c) what, if anything, will be done to improve the quality of data reported to EHRI in the future. Agencies that do not report official time data via EHRI were asked to submit their official time usage manually for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014.

FY 2014 Official Time Survey Findings

During FY 2014, unions represented 1,203,693 non-Postal Federal civil service bargaining unit employees, a decrease of approximately -1.54% or -18,844 bargaining unit employees compared to FY 2012. Agencies reported that bargaining unit employees spent a total of 3,468,170 hours performing representational duties on official time, an increase of 0.84 percent compared to FY 2012. Government-wide, the number of official time hours used per bargaining unit employee on representational matters increased from 2.81 hours in FY 2012 to 2.88 hours during FY 2014.

The estimated official time costs represented approximately one tenth of one percent of the total cost of salary and benefits for Federal employees in FY 2014.