The United States Office of Special Counsel (OSC) released a report (first noted on Twitter by Time magazine’s Zeke Miller and reported on by the Free Beacon’s Bill McMorris) that identified what the investigative agency described as a “systematic violation of the Hatch Act,” the federal law that prohibits almost all federal government employees from using federal resources for political campaigns. The report, produced after a complaint by a constituent of Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), found that the United States Postal Service’s practice of granting leave without pay to members of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), an AFL-CIO member union, for political activities violated the Hatch Act. (The union itself and the union’s membership were absolved of wrongdoing.)
According to the report, NALC sent a list of union members to USPS labor-relations higher-ups to be given “union official leave without pay” to join Labor 2016—an AFL-CIO canvassing project in swing states for the 2016 Presidential and U.S. Senate elections. Union members’ pay was provided by the union’s political action committee throughout the leave period, which corresponded to the final stretch of the 2016 election campaign. These leaves were given even when local postal officials protested that they could not release the identified employees without suffering understaffing problems.
Union members were given upwards of a month off from their duties to support NALC and the AFL-CIO’s preferred candidates for election. The result? The Office of Special Counsel concluded, “USPS’s practice of facilitating union official [leave without pay] for NALC’s Labor 2016 program […] gave the appearance that USPS favored or supported the union’s endorsed candidates.” Those candidates included Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Johnson’s Democratic opponent, former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold.
The Counsel’s report demanded changes to USPS practices to comply with the Hatch Act, including removing political activities from the acceptable grounds for union official leave and forbidding managers from requiring or suggesting that members be given leave to engage in political activity.
This fiasco, apparently only now discovered after 20-plus years of granted leaves, demonstrates the power of public employee unions and the problems with government worker collective bargaining. Unlike employers with a stake in the success or failure of a business, public managers are more interested in keeping labor peace—the ostensible reason USPS managers gave the Office of Special Counsel in explanation for their unlawful scheme—than representing the financial interests of taxpayers.
Combined with the more insidious practice of “official time,” by which government employees collect taxpayers’ money to do unions’—not the public’s—business, the leave practices of unionized government workplaces prove ripe for abuse. The OSC report on the Postal Service’s practices should be only the beginning of changes.