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Union Work on the Taxpayers' Dime

Government makes us pay for a lot of stuff we don’t want. Cowboy poetry and robot squirrels and gherkin specifications and… look, there’s plenty of stupid out there. But at least these silly expenditures result in some end product, no matter how trivial.

Did you know that the government is actually paying their workers not to do government work? Instead, they are giving them tax dollars to work exclusively for their labor union. It’s enough to make a cowboy poet madder than a wet coyote in a prickly-pear saddlebag.

This little-discussed scam, ahem, practice is called “Official Time,” but it pays for anything but official business. Instead, federal employees are paid to represent their public employee labor union to their fellow employees.

Shouldn’t the well-funded unions be paying for work done on their behalf? Of course, but that might cut into their lavish political donations to left-leaning candidates.

Needless to say (but I will anyway), this shady practice has jumped big-time under the Obama administration. The amount of Official Time has increased nearly 600,000 hours since 2007. That’s an increase of about 68 work-years in just 6 actual years. What does that cost you?

[In FY 2011] federal government workers spent nearly 3.4 million hours performing union activities while on the job.

Since the average federal employee made over $108,000 in both salary and benefits (in 2008), or $52.15 per hour, the costs to taxpayers in FY 2011 was over $177 million for federal government workers to conduct union business. [Again, that figure is using the 2008 average compensation cost (wages and benefits) for federal government workers.]

With that kind of money, think how many robot squirrels you could build. (Fewer if they were solar-powered robot squirrels with lasers in their eyes, but still.)

The Feds aren’t the only ones wasting money on Official Time; it’s also rampant in local governments where it often goes by the name Release Time. Phoenix taxpayers picked up the bill for 73,000 hours at an annual cost of $3.7 million. About $900,000 of that was delivered to police union bosses; six of them got not only their full pay and benefits, but 160 hours each in overtime pay for their union work.

Michigan’s local school districts forked over at least $2.7 million to union workers on the payroll. In some cases they were given six-figure salaries to work against the interests of taxpayers.

In a way, citizens end up paying twice for these abuses — once for the person they’re paying to do union business, and again for the bad policies said union worker promotes.

As we're seeing with the sequester, politicians love to complain that there is no budget item left to cut. Maybe if they stopped paying their workers not to work, they would have money left over for the really important stuff. Like gherkin specifications.

Follow Jon on Twitter at @ExJon.