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Government workers spent 3.4 million hours on union activities in 2012

The U.S. Capitol Building stands in this photo taken with a tilt-shift lens in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Oct. 3, 2014. When Congress returns to Washington on Nov. 12, lawmakers' to-do list will include a longer-term government funding measure and legislation setting Defense Department policy. Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Government workers spent 3,439,448 hours on union activities in 2012, up 1.3 percent from the time used in 2011, according to a new report from the Office of Personnel Management.

The report said that time amounts to $157.2 million in government salaries, based on the average salary of those workers. That assumes a rate of pay of about $46 an hour, or about $90,000 per year in salary.

In 2012, federal workers in Washington and around the country used 3.4 million hours on union activities, costing about $157 million. Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Federal law gives government workers a right to spent time on collective bargaining and other union activities, activities that are formally known as "official time."

"Official time, broadly defined, is paid time federal employees spend performing representational work for a bargaining unit in lieu of their regularly assigned work," the report said. "It allows unions to satisfy their duty of fair representation to members and non-members alike."

Annual reports on the time and cost of this union work were released each year under the George W. Bush administration. But the Obama administration indicated that it may stop putting out these reports.

That prompted two House Republicans to demand that the OPM put out its 2012 report by April, a deadline it missed by about six months.

While the report finally was released, it stressed that it will try to focus more on the benefits of collective bargaining efforts by federal workers, instead of just the costs. It said focusing on costs alone didn't give the full view of why "official time" is so important.

The report admitted that the benefits of improved labor-management relations "can be difficult to quantify." But it concluded by saying that collective bargaining "offers an additional opportunity to engage employees through their representatives and to participate in workplace matters as partners with management with the ultimate goal of improved agency products and services."

It also said collective bargaining also lets agency leaders, union leaders and employees "share in the goals of cutting costs, enhancing productivity, and improving delivery of government services."

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