Wayne County, MI
AFL - CIO
Vice President's Report
March / April 2018
The Hatch Act
What YOU Need to Know
The Hatch Act is a Federal Law that was passed by the United States Congress in 1939. It was named for then Senator Carl Hatch from New Mexico. The original intent was a legislative push back by Congress against the Franklin Roosevelt Administration. The Hatch Act was based on unsubstantiated claims that federal employees were improperly using their positions to advance the agenda of the President - much like appointees of the current ad-ministration are actually doing now.
The Hatch Act was considered to be fully applicable to the old Post Office Department which at that time was a cabinet level government agency as it had been since our nation’s founding years. I began my postal career in Plymouth from 1971-1981, and my then postmaster was a 1960’s era political appointee. Following the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970, the newly named United States Postal Service was no longer an agency of the federal government, although some ties remained such as continued coverage by federal retirement, health benefits, and workers compensation laws.
Because of the now quasi-independent nature of the Postal Service, our union, the National Association of Letter Carriers, challenged its applicability to Postal Service employees. The legal challenge went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled against the NALC in 1973. Active USPS employees are still covered by most provisions of the Hatch Act, which has been amended several times, most recently in 1993. The 1993 amendments did relax some of the most draconian provisions of the Hatch Act, especially as it applies to political activities undertaken on a federal/postal employee’s own time. Additionally, retired postal employees are free to engage in whatever partisan political activities that they choose.
and Postal Reality
Unfortunately, there exists a widespread level of myth and misunderstanding concerning what the Hatch Act is applicable to and what it is not. For letter carriers the most important thing to always remember is a two-part phrase: Off the Clock and Out of Uniform. Hatch Act prohibitions expressly include using any form of social media to participate in partisan political matters while at work. This also includes a letter carrier’s lunch and break times. In general, it is a good practice to avoid using social media for any purpose while at work.
You may not wear politically partisan clothing (at least not visible clothing), buttons or stickers while at work, nor display any politically partisan material on post office property or equipment, including postal vehicles. Of note, you can park a personal vehicle with political bumper stickers on Postal property, but may not use that vehicle for the delivery of mail or parcels.
The Hatch Act does specifically prohibit some activities even while off the clock. Most notably, federal and postal employees may not be a candidate for any partisan political office while actively employed. You may, however, run for a local office that is non-partisan in nature; that is where candidates are not nominated or elected based on political affiliation.
Additionally, federal and postal employees may not solicit funds or participate in any aspect of fundraising for partisan political office, even while off the clock. Political Action Committees such as the NALC’s own Letter Carrier Political Fund (LCPF) are allowable because they do not support or represent candidates based on political affiliation. Instead the criterion for LCPF donations to Congressional candidates is solely issue based.
Contrary to widespread myth that is propagated by anti-union conservative factions, union dues money is never, under any circumstances used for direct contributions to partisan candidates for office. That is why we have the LCPF, which is funded entirely through voluntary, non-dues monetary contributions.
Letter carriers can also personally contribute to the campaigns of partisan political candidates provided such donations are strictly their own money and are made on their own time. They can also work on behalf of partisan political candidates, but this must be done entirely off the clock and away from Postal Service facilities. Finally, letter carriers are free to express their opinions about issues and candidates verbally and in writing, while off the clock and out of uniform and absent any reference to their title or USPS position.
Political Talk on the Workroom Floor
-- a Waste of Words and Time
The question is often asked – “Can I talk about politics on the post office work floor?” It will surprise many that the answer is actually a conditional
“yes.” To be clear, you cannot directly campaign for or against a partisan political candidate on the post office work floor; i.e. “you should vote for….” or “you should vote against…” However, the discussion of partisan political issues, many of which directly impact the economic and job security of all active and retired postal employees, is perfectly permissible. The more important question is “should you even bother?”
Political issues, including those which directly impact USPS employees, inevitably take on a partisan tone if for no other reason than the sharp
ideological differences that exist between the two major political parties and their supporters. Additionally, our nation itself is currently more politically angry and ideologically divided than at any time since immediately prior to the Civil War more than a century and half ago. Moreover, a significant number of American citizens ascribe to a belief system that is devoid of reality or actual facts, a form of willful ignorance.
It is no secret that one of the major political parties is consistently supportive of a public postal service as well as consistently supportive of federal employee unions and the Labor Movement in general. The other major political party makes no secret of its utter contempt for a public postal service, contempt for federal employees and their unions (and for all unions), as well as contempt for your work and the very livelihood of you and your family. As such, work floor discussion of politics and political matters typically and often very quickly becomes acrimonious and even heated in nature, creating an unpleasant work environment for all.
Has workplace political discussion ever changed anyone’s mind about an issue? The answer is very likely “no.” Is workplace political discussion personally annoying to your coworkers? The answer is far too often “yes.” So again, why bother? Leave it alone at work and save it for when you are off the clock and out of uniform. Want to talk it over while enjoying a beer or two after work? Go for it, but make sure that you have changed out of your letter carrier uniform first.
As we approach what will undoubtedly be an extremely contentious midterm election on November 6 this year, let’s make our first workplace priority consideration for each other. There will be plenty of time for politics and all that goes with it during the months to come. We are first and foremost Union Brothers and Sisters, regardless of our personal opinions about anyone or anything. Let’s prioritize that, focusing instead on our common workplace issues and responsibilities. The coming months will be filled with partisan politics at its most ugly. Please make every effort to make the workplace a safe haven from all of the political noise to come.
-- Joe Golonka