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Federal workers’ union files lawsuit over use of political speech on the job

Washington DC

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the union representing the largest group of federal workers, is suing a government agency over rules regarding political speech while on the job.

The Office of Special Counsel (which has nothing to do with Robert Mueller) enforces the Hatch Act, which says federal employees cannot engage in “political activity” while on duty.

The union claims it’s a violation of members’ free speech while the OSC says it’s important to build a fence between government and politics.

“Grumbling about the boss is kind of universal, wherever you work,” AFGE assistant general counsel Ward Morrow said.

But for federal employees, it’s not so simple, according to Morrow.

“Unfortunately, in this situation, grumbling about the boss means you’re grumbling about the president of the United States,” he said.

In 1939, Congress passed the Hatch Act, which restricts the political activities of government workers.

Erica Hamrick with the Office of Special Counsel is responsible for enforcing that law.

“They can’t engage in any kind of political activity while they’re on duty or at work,” she explained. “They can’t use their official position to help a political party.”

Recently, Hamrick’s office got even more specific, telling federal employees not to express opinions on presidential impeachment or use the hashtag “#resist” or the word “resistance” while at work, wearing a government uniform, or on government property.

The AFGE, the union representing the largest group of federal workers, thinks that’s unconstitutional and filed a lawsuit.

“This goes into freedom of expression of employees,” Morrow said. “It gets into a real gray area and for federal employees, their job could be at stake.”

Hamrick wouldn’t comment on the pending litigation but said if federal employees remain non-partisan on the job, they won’t get into trouble.

“People are working for the government based on their merit, they’re doing their job in a neutral fashion, and they’re not going to lose their job just because there’s a new president in town,” she said.

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