Official time is the time granted to an employee by the agency to perform representational functions on behalf of the union. Official time is granted without charge to leave or loss of pay and is authorized only when the employee would otherwise be in a duty status. Official time is considered hours of work.
Section 7131 of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (the Statute) defines four areas of official time:
(1) Official time must be granted to employees representing a labor organization when engaged in collective bargaining, to include attendance at impasse proceedings. The number of employees for whom official time is authorized under this subsection shall not exceed the number of individuals designated as representing the agency in the negotiations. (Although the union can bargain for additional union negotiators to be on official time.)
(2) Official time cannot be granted for internal union business. That is, employees representing the union cannot be on official time when soliciting union membership, voting or campaigning for internal union elections, etc.;
(3) The Federal Labor Relations Authority can authorize official time for employees representing the union in any phase of proceedings before the Authority. This would include unfair labor practice proceedings, bargaining unit representation proceedings, etc. Again, the employee would have to otherwise be in a duty status to be on official time.
(4) Finally, official time for representing bargaining unit employees on matters covered by the Statute may be granted in any amount the agency and the union involved agree to be reasonable, necessary and in the public interest. In other words, the amount and use of official time for representational purposes is fully negotiable.
The amount of official time authorized to union representatives at the installation is detailed in the parties' negotiated agreement or is set through past practice. Normally, official time requests are raised to the union official's first-line supervisor. In evaluating requests, consideration should be given to its reasonableness, the amount of time requested, past practices of allowing time, the time of day it is to be used, availability of the staff to accomplish the mission, contractual obligations, etc. Supervisors monitor the amount of official time used. If a supervisor fails to ensure proper usage of official time by the union officials, he/she may find that a past practice of extensive official time usage/accounting has occurred. At this point, it will be difficult to reduce the amount of time used by the union officials. When monitoring the use of official time, supervisors must be careful not to interfere with the protected rights of the union stewards and employees.
Most contracts provide for reasonable official time usage. What reasonable means is up to the parties to decide. Other agreements allocate defined amounts of time that the specific stewards/officers can use. For example, the union president can use 50% of the work week on official time while stewards can use up to 15%. Normally, union officials perform their union duties on an as-needed basis, returning to their regularly assigned duties. It is not unusual though, to have some union officials on 100% official time.
Supervisors must understand the role of the union official and attempt to achieve a balance between use of official time and the accomplishment of the mission. Both are important and both can be accommodated.
If a supervisor suspects an employee is abusing the use of official time, contact the labor relations specialist or civilian personnel office for guidance.