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EDITORIAL: Postal service workers took unpaid leave to campaign for Hillary Clinton

Back in July, a report by the U.S. Postal Service’s inspector general found that the agency spent $90,000 to cover for employees who took unpaid leave to go campaign for Hillary Clinton prior to the 2016 election. That naturally piqued the curiosity of GOP congressional leaders, who have since requested information from 10 government agencies in order to determine the scope of the practice.

But while Congress should indeed investigate potential violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from using their jobs to advance certain political causes, it needs to also recognize that off-duty federal employees do have the right to advocate for their views.

According to the USPS inspector general, unionized postal workers can take unpaid leave in order to engage in official activities on behalf of their labor groups. In the case of the 2016 election, however, the agency failed to follow proper protocols in granting the time off.

Per a report by Government Executive, 97 letter carriers across the country took unpaid leave to “participate in political activities on behalf of” the National Association of Letter Carriers in the months leading up to the election. As Jazz Shaw of Hot Air aptly summarized back in July, the USPS’s “overall directive to release the workers to go campaign, combined with the fact that the union had specifically endorsed Hillary Clinton,” essentially created “an institutional bias in favor of NALC’s endorsed political candidates, which the Hatch Act prohibits.”

Last October, after being tipped off about the scandal by a constituent, Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., kickstarted an investigation by the office of special counsel. As Fox News reports, House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., joined Sen. Johnson’s efforts last week, penning joint letters to 10 government agencies concerning “union official Leave Without Pay” for political campaign activity.

There should be no political favoritism when granting leave requests, and Rep. Gowdy and Sen. Johnson say gathering data will help to “ensure federal agencies are granting leave without pay in a politically neutral manner.” Good.

The rules need to be followed. Public-sector unions are essentially an arm of the Democratic Party, and if union bosses are manipulating the system to ensure to encourage employees to engage in political activity while neglecting their duties to the taxpayer, that’s a problem. The Postal Service’s first obligation is to ensure it is managing its personnel issues and carrying out its mission without burdening taxpayers.

But if the requested unpaid leave can be granted within existing rules and budgets, what workers do with their free time should be their own business.

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