Policy: Labor

WATCHDOGS TODAY: Public employee unions spending more on lobbying as membership booms

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Photo - Jeffrey David Cox Sr., American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) International President, speaks to local union members prior to joining representatives and Massachusetts labor leaders to  walk, knock and talk  campaign to help Massachusetts Democratic candidate  Elizabeth Warren in her bid for the U.S. Senate, Nov. 3, 2012, in Boston's Roslindale neighborhood. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/AP Images for American Federation of Government Employees)
Jeffrey David Cox Sr., American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) International President, speaks to local union members prior to joining representatives and Massachusetts labor leaders to walk, knock and talk campaign to help Massachusetts Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren in her bid for the U.S. Senate, Nov. 3, 2012, in Boston's Roslindale neighborhood. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/AP Images for American Federation of Government Employees)
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Unlike their private sector counterparts who have seen steady membership declines for several decades, federal career civil service employee unions are expanding their numbers even as they devote more dues money to lobbying Congress and the White House, often on issues only tangentially related to goverment workplace conditions, according to OpenSecrets.org's Janie Boschma.

Approximately half of the federal government's 2.1 million career employees are union members, and the largest of those unions is the American Federation of Government Employees, an AFL-CIO affiliate that saw a 43 percent increase in members to 282,535 last year, Boschma said. The increase came about "partly because AFGE began representing Transportation Security Administration employees last year." she said.

The union "also increased its lobbying budget to $1.49 million last year, an increase of $190,000 over 2011, the biggest jump for federal unions in 2012. According to its fourth-quarter report, AFGE mostly lobbied budget and appropriations issues to secure funding for Customs and Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for example."

AFGE is the largest of the federal employee unions but it is not the biggest spending public employee union lobbyist. That distinction belongs to the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, also an AFL-CIO affiliate, which Boschma said spent $2.68 million on lobbying in 2012.

"According to its fourth-quarter report, AFSCME lobbied on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, as well as job creation bills, Hurricane Sandy relief and the fiscal cliff negotiations," she said.

More from Boschma can be found here.

Postal employee defrauded government of $265,000 in workmen's compensation benefits

A former U.S. Postal Service employee has pleaded guilty to defrauding the government of more than a quarter of a million dollars in Federal Employee Compensation Act (FECA) benefits by misrepresenting her medical condition and concealing her participation in activities that would have disqualified her from receiving the income.

Melissa Scherz Leist, 37, of Coshocton, Ohio, pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of fraud following an investigation by the U.S. Postal Service Inspector General led by Special Agent Robert LaPina.

Leist collected an estimated $265,000 in FECA benefits before her scheme was exposed, said Steven M. Dettelbach, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.

Besides misrepresenting her medical condition, Leist "fraudulently rejected limited duty job offers by the United States Postal Service, falsely represented her physical abilities and range of activities and deliberately concealed activities which would have made her ineligible for disability benefits," according to a statement issued by the Department of Justice.

"The majority of postal employees who collect compensation benefits have legitimate claims due to on-the-job injuries and are truly unable to perform any postal jobs," LaPina said. "A small percentage, however, abuse the system and cost the Postal Service millions of dollars in fraudulent claims. This guilty plea should put those employees who choose to abuse the system on notice that USPS OIG agents will vigorously investigate worker compensation fraud and will seek criminal prosecution and termination of their job and benefits when appropriate."

For more on the Leist case, go here.

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