- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

While protesters continue to gather at state capitols, the rest of the country understands how important it is to reign in spending to combat a rising tide of debt and deficits. Just as most American families are tightening their belts, and just as the U.S. House of Representatives spent more than 90 hours cutting $61 billion from the budget, so must states look to diminish spending to balance their budgets and prevent a fiscal disaster.

What is taking place across the country as states attempt to roll back certain taxpayer-funded union activities is a clear indicator that under increased financial pressure, they have no other choice than to collectively bargain with unions over necessary spending cuts. Public unions should not be exempt from the spending reductions that states must make, especially since their collective bargaining rights have, in large part, led to larger government and increased spending for decades.

Public-union employees are already at a higher standing than most with access to an unlimited amount of paid time to bargain for better wages and benefits. Federal employees earn higher salaries than private employees in eight out of 10 occupations. In fact, a typical federal worker is paid 20 percent more than a private-sector worker in the same job. This means that while the nation experiences a slow pace of private-sector job creation, taxpayer-funded union jobs are being protected with better deals. These deals are negotiated through collective bargaining, which as it stands now, can be done on official time, funded - once again - by the U.S. taxpayer.

And the bill taxpayers are footing for union activities on official time isnt cheap. The Office of Personnel Management, a government agency that, among other things, tracks federal-employee efficiency, surveyed 61 executive agencies and departments for fiscal 2008 to assess how much official time was lost to union activity. They reported that 3 million official hours were used for collective bargaining or arbitration of grievances against an employer during that fiscal year at a cost of more than $120 million to the U.S. taxpayer. At a time when resources are stretched thin, state governments and Congress simply cannot afford to ignore the wasteful spending of public unions.

To address this problem on the federal level, last month I introduced the Federal Employee Accountability Act of 2011. My bill would not allow federal-union employees to collectively bargain on official time sponsored by taxpayer dollars. It repeals two broadly defined provisions of federal law, which allow unlimited official time to be used by employees for purposes of collective bargaining and arbitration, saving $1.2 billion over the next 10 years.

This legislation would complement measures some states are proposing to reign in spending because it would eliminate wasted time and money while still allowing unions to retain their bargaining rights. This effectively would prevent public-union employees from conducting union activities on official, paid time - a current luxury that most private employees in similar jobs aren’t usually extended. Simply put, federal employees being paid for an eight-hour day must work an eight-hour day, just like everyone else.

Lawmakers are setting a poor example by running away from the problem instead of facing their constituents and making necessary choices. Public unions must be held accountable for their spending, just as thousands of small businesses and millions of households must hold themselves accountable.

The state of spending over the past four years has left us with few options, but one of them certainly is not to run away from America’s fundamental democratic process. The time for all of us to confront our dire financial circumstances is now, and we cannot afford to allow exceptions.

Rep. Phil Gingrey is a Republican representing Georgia.


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