According to a report by the Office of Special Counsel, the United States Postal Service violated federal law by allowing some employees to union-paid work for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, and other Democratic campaigns, while on leave. The USPS thus "engaged in systemic violations" of the Hatch Act, according to the report. The Hatch Act limits the kinds of political activities in which federal employees may engage. The law does allow employees to do some types of political work while on leave, the report contends that USPS showed "bias" that favored the union's 2016 campaign operation.
After Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) heard constituents' complaints in October of last year, an investigation was launched by the OSC. Johnson is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. The constituent, an employee of USPS, felt that the mail service had “incurred unnecessary overtime costs” and “improperly coordinated” with the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) labor union when it allowed members to take weeks of “union official” leave without pay to participate in campaigns.
According to the report, “The Labor 2016 program sought to ‘elect Hillary Clinton and pro-worker candidates across the country,’” while noting that the campaign work included phone banks, door-to-door canvassing, and other political efforts. Approximately 97 NALC members requested the leave without pay to participate. The NALC endorsed Clinton last June. It paid the USPS workers using the Letter Carrier Political Fund, the union’s political action committee.
According to the report, 82 percent of the work took place in states heavily contested by the candidates: Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
The report found that NALC offered lists of letter carriers to work on campaigns to a senior headquarters USPS labor relations official. The lists were then emailed the lists to other USPS officials across the country. Local officials “interpreted the communications as directives” from USPS headquarters to release the carriers on union official leave without pay.
Some local supervisors were concerned about how the employees' absences would have on mail delivery and other postal operations. Some initially objected to released the workers. However, USPS managers instructed the supervisors to let the workers to participate.
OSC attorney Adam Miles said in prepared testimony, which will be presented to the Senate on Wednesda, “We concluded that the USPS practice of facilitating and directing carrier releases for the union’s political activity resulted in an institutional bias in favor of NALC’s endorsed political candidates, which the Hatch Act prohibits.”
Defending the practice is Postmaster General Megan Brennan, who said that “senior postal leadership did not in any way guide union leadership in selecting the candidates for whom NALC employees could campaign” and that USPS “did not approve or choose candidates for the unions to support” or “ask the union to advocate for political candidates on behalf of the Postal Service.”
“I also note that our postal unions do not speak for the Postal Service, and the Postal Service does not speak for our unions,” Brennan wrote in her prepared testimony. She claimed that the postal service did not seek to assist NALC’s “favored candidates.” She said, “This especially applies in a political context, but it is inherent in any collective bargaining relationship.”
Saying that any violations of the Hatch Act were "unintentional," Brennan said that the practice to grant leave without pay for political activity goes back for 2-years. “We will change our practice in consultation with the OSC and based upon OSC’s guidance. This will ensure that we do not put our people in harm's way and they do not unintentionally run afoul of the Hatch Act,” Brennan said. “As we have previously communicated to both this committee and to the OSC, and as the OSC has acknowledged, the Postal Service has always been ready, willing and able to end or modify our practice as appropriate, consistent with OSC’s recommendation.”
The Hatch Act is a federal law that limits certain political activities of federal employees. The law’s purpose is to ensure federal programs are “administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation,” according to the OSC. The office is an independent federal agency that monitors compliance with that law and others.
Miles, in his prepared remarks, said the OSC investigation revealed the NALC-USPS practice is “long-standing, going back many election cycles, and perhaps started in the 1990s.”
“As a federal entity, the USPS must remain politically neutral,” Miles' testimony said. “In many localities, the Postal Service is a citizen’s primary point of contact with the federal government, reinforcing the need for strict adherence to the letter and the spirit of the Hatch Act.”
OSC recommended in the report that, going forward, USPS management should not require, direct or suggest local supervisors release union members to engage in political activity.
Miles added: “OSC has communicated these recommendations to USPS, and agency representatives appear ready to take the steps necessary to comply with the Hatch Act.”