Veterans Affairs Workers Do Union Work On The Clock

6:10 PM, Jul 2, 2013   |    comments
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Greensboro, NC -- You're paying federal workers to do their job, but guess what? Some of them are not doing their jobs. They're performing union duties instead - on your dime. Annoyed yet? Just wait. Here's the real rub for most people - it's perfectly legal for them to do that. And hold on again - because there's still more. Two Wants to Know found this is happening in an agency that already claims to be short staffed - Veterans Affairs.

We ran across this practice and stopped in our tracks. Two senators also want answers - sending a letter to the VA demanding answers. The agency hasn't gotten back to them, and a spokesperson told us the VA is still preparing a response to us.

It's all about a list, the result of a public records request by a group that calls itself Americans for Limited Government. The group says the records it's releasing are from a Freedom of Information request. They show 188 VA workers not doing any VA work at all. That includes five right here in North Carolina at the Asheville Charles George VA Medical Center.

We tried to talk with those workers. Workers like Lisa Ballard. The documents show her job title with the VA is registered nurse. But her daily duties don't include taking blood pressure or checking vet's charts. She spends her time on your dime working as the vice president of her union. By the way, "your dime" is a figure of speech. You're paying nurse Lisa Ballard $90,000 and $1 to do her union job.

We also tried to talk to the other registered nurse, and the A/C mechanic, IT specialist and program support assistant. They all referred us to their national union.

So we talked online to the vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees. He says this is all perfectly legal under the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. It's called official time. And we checked. It is legal. Joe Flynn says, "Our job under the statute is to represent employees who have problems or have disagreements with management. And that's what we use official time for."

Flynn says this is better for taxpayers because "by having a grievance process, by negotiation collective agreements it's a morale booster, and that clearly is in the public interest."

The records show in 2012 you paid more than $325,000 for those VA workers in North Carolina to do union work. Nationwide that cost is more than $16 million. Sound like a lot? Not if you put it in perspective of the VA's total $127 billion budget last year.

Vet Wanda Autrey has a very personal perspective.  She's the local commander of the Disabled American Veterans. And she fights backlogs at VA centers everyday. "If the government is appropriating funds for them to serve the veteran and they're not serving the veteran, they doing the veteran a dishonor," says Autrey.

"Official time" is not limited to the VA. Two Wants to Know obtained more government documents that show almost every federal agency has "official time." The most recent numbers are from 2011.  They show official time costs you and all American taxpayers more than $150 million annually.

Official time and its costs are on the radar of some representatives and senators. A congressman from Georgia filed a bill that would limit "official time" used by federal workers. That piece of legislation already has 23 co-sponsors. A similar bill has also been filed for the past two sessions and nothing's changed yet.

So what do you think - a waste of your tax dollars or legitimate union work? Weigh in on the on our Facebook page or tweet us @2wtk Either way, we'll take your comments straight to lawmakers.

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