FAQ: Union Membership Solicitation

Question: “Can a [federal] union official recruit members during duty hours or official time?”

Answer:  Rarely is the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) as clear on other questions as they are with this question.  Unless your Master Agreement or other negotiated instrument (such as a supplemental or local MOU) explicitly provides otherwise, the answer is an unequivocal NO.

Many Master Agreements address this question in part, typically in an Official Time Article in the Agreement.  Most contain language similar to, “As provided in 5 USC 7131, official time shall be granted as specified in law and in any additional amount the Agency and Union agree to be reasonable, necessary, and in the public interest.” Clearly, this language, taken from a real Master Agreement negotiated in 2011, provides distinct deference to 5 USC 7131.  In the context of such language and deference, it is critical to understand what 5 USC 7131 says.  Title 5 USC 7131 (b) requires the “internal business of a labor organization, including the solicitation of union membership, must be performed when employees are in a “non-duty status.”  A notable case indicating Union officials are not entitled to official time for the performance of internal union business (including solicitation of membership) is Social Security Administration, 87 FLRR 1-1260 , 27 FLRA 391 (FLRA 1987).

In regard to employee(both the union representative and person being solicited) work status during such solicitation of membership, it is worth noting, the requirement that membership solicitation take place when employees are in a non-duty status applies to the individual soliciting membership as well as those being solicited. See, Social Security Administration, 83 FLRR 1-1326 , 13 FLRA 409 (FLRA 1983).  In other words, both the union representative and employee must be in a non-duty status when engaged in such activity (recruiting or joining).  The FLRA determined employees are in a non-duty status when assigned periods of time where the performance of job functions is not required, such as breaks. During these periods, employees may be solicited for membership even though they receive compensation as part of their duty hours. See, Naval Air Station, Pensacola, 106 LRP 28564 , 61 FLRA 562 (FLRA 2006); Tinker AFB, 6 FLRA 159 , 81 FLRR 1-1139 (FLRA 1981).

The FLRA went even further concerning the inappropriateness of soliciting union membership on duty time or while the union representative is in an official time status.  In 438th Air Base Group, McGuire AFB, 82 FLRR 1-1725 , 10 FLRA 346 (FLRA 1982), the FLRA determined that when a union official is on official time, even when discussing legitimate representational matters with an employee, the solicitation of union membership involves the internal business and is prohibited, noting such activity would constitute an unfair labor practice.

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