Legislative Issues: Official Time
ISSUE: Official time at the FAA is paid time that employee-representatives may use to resolve disputes, negotiate changes in working conditions, and to collaborate on workgroups that implement new procedures, such as NextGen. It facilitates meetings and collaboration that save the FAA and taxpayers time and money by allowing the parties to avoid costly arbitrations and other less-efficient means of dispute resolution. Labor and management are equally accountable to the taxpayer and have a shared responsibility to ensure that official time is authorized and used appropriately. Yet, there is a misperception by some members of Congress that official time is an abused program and that eliminating official time would save the government money.
Each year we see legislation, or amendments to legislation, that would stifle or outright eliminate the use of official time by government employees, including those at the FAA. In 2017, legislation already has been introduced in the House of Representatives attacking official time.
MESSAGE: Official time is necessary for NATCA members to perform their representational duties owed to all bargaining unit employees, regardless of union membership status. It is an especially important tool now, as America’s air traffic control system is being modernized. The elimination of official time would prevent NATCA members from working with the FAA on the technology and procedures that are vital to the success of NextGen, and would hinder collaboration and progress of these and other important initiatives. NATCA opposes any legislation that attacks official time, including the Official Time Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 1364).
BACKGROUND: Congress established official time by law to ensure that all workers receive fair representation. Yet, legislation continues to be introduced to limit or abolish official time. The House of Representatives had two recorded votes on the issue in the past four years. NATCA helped defeat these efforts both times. These victories were a direct result of NATCA’s efforts to educate members of Congress and their staffs at the local and national levels.
The 115th Congress is no different. Legislation already has been introduced that would attack official time if enacted into law. H.R. 1364 was recently introduced by Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA). This bill would harm the important work that is being done by NATCA and the FAA on NextGen and other programs that require collaboration — programs that are vital to the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace System.
In particular, H.R. 1364 would prevent the use of official time for lobbying activity, but conflates all lobbying with political activity. The Hatch Act already prohibits government employees from engaging in political activity while in a duty status, including on official time. Although lobbying is permitted on official time if it is expressly included in a collective bargaining agreement with an agency, NATCA members do not lobby while on official time, such as for this NATCA in Washington event.
H.R. 1364 also would reduce retirement benefits for federal employees, including NATCA representatives, for simply performing their representational duties. Such an attack would seriously constrain NATCA’s ability to use official time for its many critical, legitimate purposes.
Below is a list of activities that NATCA members may engage in while on official time, as well as a list of activities that are prohibited under the law.
NATCA members MAY use official time to:
- Participate in labor-management workgroups that collaborate on issues like new technology implementation, development of new procedures, and increased airspace efficiencies;
- Represent bargaining unit employees in meetings with FAA management;
- Facilitate implementation of new workplace initiatives, including training on new technology and procedures;
- Assist the FAA in communicating important information about workplace matters to employees;
- Negotiate contracts and other collective bargaining agreements that concern employee working conditions, pay, and benefits;
- Represent employees in grievances and disciplinary actions; and
- Represent employees before other federal agencies in administrative proceedings.
NATCA members MAY NOT use official time to:
- Conduct internal union business;
- Recruit new union members;
- Collect union dues;
- Conduct union elections;
- Campaign for union offices; or
- Engage in political activity.
As stated above, despite being allowed under the law, NATCA members also do not engage in lobbying activities — such as this NATCA in Washington event — while on official time.