Washington Postal Scene — By Bill McAllister
The United States Postal Service allowed 97 letter carriers to work for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign last year in what investigators told Congress was a systemic violation of a law prohibiting federal workers from engaging in partisan politics.
The accusation, made at a July 19 Senate hearing, drew an immediate apology from Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan.
She called the Postal Service’s violations of the Hatch Act “unintentional” and promised to end the abuses.
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Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, whose staff discovered the Postal Service’s practice of granting unpaid leave for politics, warned that, although the actions “do not seem like large numbers, especially here in Washington,” the consequences were far-reaching.
Investigators told the committee the National Association of Letter Carriers, a major postal union, has had “a long-standing practice,” dating back to the 1990s, of securing leave without pay for union members at election time.
Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, said USPS headquarters officials last year had taken “official actions with the intent of enabling” the unions’ political agenda and has done so “with a clear understanding of what that activity involved.”
“It is legitimate to wonder why no one will be held accountable [and] how the Postal Service leadership allowed this systemic violation of the Hatch Act to go on for 20 years,” the chairman said.
He questioned whether other federal agencies also were allowing extensive leave taking for politics.
Adam Miles, acting U.S. Special Counsel, said his office “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 the NALC’s endorsed political candidates, which the Hatch Act prohibits.”
To stop “these systemic violations” the Office of Special Counsel said the Postal Service should “not require, direct or suggest that local supervisors release union members to engage in political activity.” It urged the USPS to adopt a “hands off” approach to the union’s political activities.
It also said the USPS should drop reference to political activities being allowed for leave without pay.
Miles said USPS management appears to be receptive to these changes.
The official also said that his office did not believe individual punishments were appropriate and that the practice was a result of the USPS’s efforts to “engender goodwill with the union.”
William Siemer, acting deputy inspector general of the USPS, said in his testimony that the Office of Inspector General has discovered that 97 carriers took leave without pay to engage in partisan political campaign activities from September through November of last year.
The leave ran from four to 50 days, totaling more than 2,700 days off.
Eighty-two percent of the union activities were in the states of Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. All six states were described as battleground states in the presidential race between Democrat Clinton and Republican Donald J. Trump.
Some local managers attempted to deny the leave requests, Siemer said.
But an unnamed headquarters labor relations executive was said to have sent emails to field managers requiring explanations for any carriers whose leave requests were not approved.
The inspector general said his staff examined leave requests of 22 carriers and said that the USPS paid a “net overtime cost of more than $90,000” to make up for the jobs of the workers granted leave.
Postal management approved the leave requests as “a customary practice” and “a necessary part of cultivating a good relationship with the union.”
After the hearing, the NALC posted a brief statement on its website promising it would submit a statement to the Senate committee “to address the legitimacy and accuracy of some of the data and statements” at the hearing.
“NALC also will monitor these proceedings to protect our right to continue representing the views of our members across the political spectrum consistent with the law.”