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No Union at the IRS

A Republican bill in Congress would ban IRS employees from having any rights at work

Brian Young's picture
Jul 05, 2018

Another day, another attack on labor. Over the last few weeks, Trump and the Executive Branch have issued Executive Orders meant to weaken Federal unions and the Supreme Court has issued one of the most appalling decisions in recent memory in the Janus decision. Not to be outdone, Congress is getting involved by trying to ban unions at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The Preventing Unionization of Revenue Service Employees, or PURSE, Act was introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz, to piggyback off of the recent Janus decision. The bill prohibits employees at the IRS from organizing or taking part in collective bargaining. Currently, the 70,000 IRS employees are represented by the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU).

The Federal government is a Right to Work workplace, meaning that federal employees are not required to join the union as a condition of employment and are not required to pay agency fees, so the Janus decision did not affect them. The vast majority of federal agencies are union, with the exception of national security agencies like the FBI.

Gosar claims that the bill is meant to save taxpayers money because without a collective bargaining agreement the government wouldn’t have to pay for “official time.” Official time, which is also known as release time, is time that is set aside to allow union officials to conduct union business like represent a member in a disciplinary hearing while still getting paid. This time is often the target of conservative attacks even though it has been found to save employers money in the long run. Even a judge in Gosar’s home state of Arizona, a state that is by no means union-friendly, said that due to release time the City of Phoenix this time serves a public purpose by promoting improved labor relations and employee conditions.

"Like the president’s anti-labor executive orders, this is just another effort to deny working men and women basic rights in the workplace," said NTEU President Tony Reardon. "Over the years, NTEU and the IRS have made improvements at IRS workplaces that make the agency more efficient and assisted more taxpayers. After losing 22,000 employees in the last eight years and $700 million in funding, what the IRS really needs is more staff and resources to better serve the American public."

This isn’t Gosar’s first time trying to go after NTEU at the IRS. In 2015, he introduced a similar bill and got 24 people to co-sponsor the bill. With Obama in the White House, who would have vetoed it, the bill failed to get a vote. Now the terrain has changed and Trump seems to be on a warpath to eliminate unions across the country, so its chances of passage should be considered much higher.

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