Last month we looked at the question of whether or not the Postal Service might have been in violation of the Hatch Act when their union instructed management to allow certain workers to take unpaid leave to go campaign for Hillary Clinton. (They were still paid in some cases, but by the Union, not the USPS.) At the time I was a bit skeptical as to whether or not the actual postal workers were in violation of the Hatch Act, but the actions of the union in setting up the scheme was clearly worth a closer look. Another question left on the table was precisely how widespread this practice is and if other agencies are doing the same thing.
The issue was troubling enough for Congress to take a closer look. A report from Government Executive shows that two House committees are on the case and sending out requests for further information.
Congressional oversight leaders want to rein in federal agencies allowing employees to take unpaid leave in order to campaign with their unions, sending requests for detailed information to agencies across government.
The data will “ensure federal agencies are granting leave without pay in a politically neutral manner,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., the chairmen of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The lawmakers made their inquiries to 10 agency leaders following findings by the U.S. Postal Service inspector general and the Office of Special Counsel that the mailing agency unlawfully pressured supervisors to approve unpaid leave for employees last year to campaign for political candidates endorsed by their unions.
This is all an uncomfortable mess which stinks to high heaven and the optics are terrible, but I still think that Congress needs to tread carefully here. Keep in mind that the government workers unions are not actually government entities (even though they have essentially purchased one of the two major political parties lock, stock and barrel with union dues). If individual workers want to take time off from their jobs to go out and participate in the election process that should be up to them.
Yes, such things need to be done in accordance with the rules. In the Post Office case they wound up costing the taxpayers a substantial amount of money in overtime costs which wouldn’t have been incurred if the workers weren’t suddenly out of the office and on the GOTV trail. The government agencies are supposed to have systems in place to make sure that vacations and time off without pay are only approved in amounts which don’t leave them short handed and drive up costs. The union may still be dinged for that. But if the requested leave can be accommodated without such penalties, what the worker does on their time off (legally) is really their business.