‘Official Time’ Bills Introduced in House, Cleared in Committee

NALC Legislative Update

Earlier this month, two pieces of legislation regarding the use of official time were introduced and passed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The first bill (H.R. 1293), which was introduced by Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) would require that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) submit an annual report to Congress Capitol 1outlining the use of official time by federal employees. H.R. 1293 would require each agency to provide OPM with an annual report that includes: total amount of official time granted to employees; average amount of official time expended per bargaining unit employee; specific types of activities or purposes for which official time was granted; the impact of granting official time had on agency operations; the total number of employees whom official time was granted, total amount of benefits and compensation for those granted official time and a description of designated spaced used for official time activities.

The second measure, the Official Time Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 1364) was introduced by Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA), which would limit the use of official time by federal employees. Unlike previous versions of this legislation or official time amendments offered in the past, H.R. 1364 goes one step further by stripping employees on official time from receiving credible service under Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS). During the markup, an amendment was also offered by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-VA) and accepted by the committee which would limit bonuses for those employees using official time.

Official time, which has been in place since the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 has proven to be an invaluable tool for both labor and management to address workplace safety and working conditions, discrimination, training, efficiency and operational improvements and other union representational activity. The markup of both bills extended over a three-day period due to the contentious manner which the bills were being negotiated setting an unharmonious tone for future committee business.

“[H.R. 1364] would set a terrible precedent,” said Oversight and Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) citing that it would “to strip the pensions of one group of employees they do not like: union members.”

While NALC’s review of both pieces of legislation indicates that neither would cover the Postal Service, NALC is adamantly opposed to bills that seek to undermine the rights of employees in the workplace.

House Committee Advances Two Postal Reform Bills

NALC Legislative Update

On March 16, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform approved the Postal Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 756) and the Postal Service Financial Improvement Act of 2017 (H.R. 760).

In a joint statement, bill sponsors—including Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz Postal reform 2(R-UT), Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC), Government Operations Subcommittee Ranking Member Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), and Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL)—expressed optimism regarding ongoing efforts to reach consensus on the committee.

“After more than nine years and many stalled efforts,” they said, “leaders in Congress have come to a bipartisan framework for postal reform that will put the Postal Service on a sustainable path. Rather than dismantle the Postal Service, our bill will give it the authority and flexibility to thrive in the 21st century.”

“It is not perfect,” Meadows said. “It is as perfect as we can get it in this environment to make it something that will pass the House and the Senate.”

During the hearing, a substitute amendment to H.R. 756 was adopted, offering some technical changes to the underlying bill. Notably, former committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) offered four failed amendments related to delivery, including one that would require residential customers to opt out of a door delivery conversion within 30 days, in writing. Issa offered two additional amendments that called for eliminating a day of mail delivery and for forcing conversions from residential door delivery when the Postal Service does not achieve 2 percent in net sales. Both amendments were immediately withdrawn.

In a last-ditch effort, Issa sought to tie door delivery conversion to USPS’ ability to make a profit of at least .001 percent in a given year.

Committee members from both parties voiced objections over Issa’s efforts to derail H.R. 756 and the work done so far on it.

“I cannot support this amendment and I cannot support this amendment for two reasons,” Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) said in response to Issa’s efforts to derail the bill. “One, holding it to a standard of 2 percent in net sales profit suggests that we’re asking the Postal Service to do better than what the federal government has done over the last eight years in the 1.5 percent growth in GDP. That to me, in and of itself, is setting it up for failure.

“The second reason, and as much as I hate to do it,” Ross said, “is that I have to agree here with my friend from Virginia, Mr. Connolly. We don’t want all the effort that we put into this bill over the last six years to suddenly just get tanked because of one amendment. We’ve come way too far. But what we need to do is hold ourselves accountable to an institution that has been around longer than the United States government. And that’s the United States Postal Service. Let’s do what the American public wants us to do and show that we’ve come together on a bipartisan fashion to save an institution the American people rely on, want to continue to have and the service of, and then we can move onto other issues that seem to be at the forefront of us.”

“I don’t think I have ever agreed to something that says we’ll have 40 percent of people agreeing to that…would have people going through the process of opting out all the time,” Oversight Committee freshman Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-KY) said. “It doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of what I believe in. I would oppose the amendment and will ride the vote on this one with the ranking member.”

The committee also voted favorably on H.R. 760 after adopting minor modifications to the bill.

Both measures now will be referred to the House committees on Ways and Means and on Energy and Commerce because of Medicare-related language in them.

(photo credit: savethepostoffice.com)

Together, One Powerful Voice

By Craig Schadewald, Vice-President, North Carolina State Association of Letter Carriers

As I write this article, it is the month of February. Since 1976 every President has officially designated February as Black History Month. One notable African American is Rosa Parks, civil rights activist widely known for her arrest in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Parks’ challenge of authority international-civil-rights-museum-1to assert her rights as an American and human being became an important moment in the American Civil Rights movement.

Another notable Civil Rights moment occurred in our own state in Greensboro, North Carolina. On February 1, 1960 four freshmen (Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr. and David Richmond) attending NC A&T University sat down at the “whites only” lunch counter at F. W. Woolworth protesting racial segregation. This act of courage fueled the sit-in movements and led to positive results for human and civil rights.

The Woolworth building is now the home of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum where you can see the lunch counter and stools where the four students sat. Greensboro is the site of our Region 9 Rap Session this August. I would encourage attendees to visit the museum. We union members could learn something from those who stood (or sat) together in an attempt to achieve their goals during the Civil Rights movement.

The actions of Rosa Parks and the “Greensboro Four” were courageous to say the least. However, without the actions of the thousands of people who joined in support of the movement, there likely would not have been positive changes enacted.

We have similar thinking in our union movement with the motto, “in unity lies our strength.” Like those mentioned above, our NALC leaders can be the spark to our actions on our legislative issues, but we need our members to take action individually. When I hear, members say I’m just one call, my Congressmen won’t do anything, I follow with, how do you know if you don’t try? Your call may be the one that helps persuade your Representative to side with our position.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced,” James Baldwin-African American novelist, playwright, poet wrote.

We all need to at least make an attempt.  Most people know you can’t hit the ball if you don’t swing the bat! Although we are acting individually, you are not the lone voice; together our voices are many forming one powerful voice as we pursue positive change for the USPS, our livelihoods and our customers.

There are pieces of legislation being introduced in the new Congress that if enacted could be good for us being postal employees, federal employees and union members, but unfortunately on the flip-side, there are many that would have extremely harmful effects on us, our employer and union.

If you’re not an e-Activist, sign up now. Contribute to the Letter Carrier Political Fund. Attend Branch meetings. We need everyone to stay alert and act when called upon. Our strength is in our collective efforts. Imagine what we can accomplish.

I’ll end with this quote, “At the time of my arrest I had no idea it would turn into this. The only thing that made it significant was that the masses of people joined in.” – Rosa Parks.

(Photo credit: Visit North Carolina)