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Federal Unions Win Right to Use Tax Dollars to Lobby Congress

By Stephen Barr
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

The Federal Labor Relations Authority has ruled that taxpayer dollars can be used by federal unions to lobby members of Congress.

The ruling resolved a grievance brought by a union representative in Memphis who contended that he should receive his pay and not have to use his vacation time when he traveled here for his union's "Lobby Week" activities, which included meetings with members of Congress.

The FLRA upheld the decision of an arbitrator, who said the union representative had a right to use "official time" under his agency collective bargaining agreement to lobby on such issues as federal pay and benefits, government downsizing, health care and civil service reform.

The ruling will likely serve as a guide for local unions that want to step up their lobbying activities or renegotiate their agency bargaining agreements. It comes at a point when official time is under attack by some congressional Republicans, who argue that unions, not taxpayers, should pay for union activities.

Unions defend official time, noting that federal law requires unions to represent all employees covered by bargaining agreements, not just those who pay union dues.

Under official time, federal employees may be authorized paid time off from their assigned duties for union activities such as collective bargaining, handling employee grievances and participating in meetings with agency managers.

In the House, Rep. John L. Mica, R-Fla., has asked the General Accounting Office to review official time at the government's 30 largest agencies. Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C., has introduced a bill to stop trust fund money at the Social Security Administration and the Health and Human Services Department from being spent on union activities.

"The fact that Congress expressly authorized official time for matters covered by the statute (the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act) persuades us that Congress expressly authorized the use of appropriated funds for lobbying activities," the FLRA said.