July 19 (UPI) -- The U.S. Postal Service broke federal law by allowing union workers to take unpaid leave to campaign for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel said Wednesday.
The watchdog group, a federal independent agency that investigates and prosecutes employees' activities, concluded the USPS violated the Hatch Act, which bars government employees from engaging in political activity while on the job.
The report, obtained by Fox News, concluded that 97 letter carriers took time off to participate in the National Association of Letter Carriers' Labor 2016 program to "elect Hillary Clinton and pro-worker candidates across the country."
The union's political action committee reimbursed employees for the leave but the activities left post offices short-staffed, the counsel's office found.
The OSE report said the Postal Service "engaged in systemic violations" by showing a "bias" favoring the union's 2016 campaign operation.
While there was a violation, the OSE said no disciplinary action is warranted.
Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, brought a constituent's complaints to the OSC in October. Timm Kopp, a Wisconsin letter carrier outlined his concerns to Johnson and testified Wednesday at a committee hearing on political campaigning by postal workers mainly in six states -- Wisconsin, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
"I didn't expect it to get to this point," Kopp told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "All I wanted was an explanation on a few things. This needs to be fixed and needs to be taken care of so the Post Office does not look biased."
Kopp had said he was concerned that his office would be short-staffed because a fellow employee announced he was going to take leave for five weeks to perform union activities. Kopp said the supervisor told him that "people higher up the chain" gave instructions to let the employee take a leave.
Kopp then contacted union officials.
"I was told that this was how it's always been done and we are trying to get people in office who will help the Postal Service get favorable legislation passed," he said in written testimony.
"In the grand scheme of things, the data identified by the investigations -- 97 employees out of work and a sampled overtime cost of $90,000 -- do not seem like large numbers, especially here in Washington. But there were unquantified consequences of this practice," Johnson said in a statement at the hearing. "One postmaster in Wisconsin noted 10 operational concerns stemming from this practice, including 'penalty overtime, late trips to the plant, and safety issues.' The practice also put non-union employees, or union employees who supported other candidates, at a disadvantage."
Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said postal employees are encouraged to support political action committees on their own time.
"We reject the OSC's conclusions that the granting of [leave without pay] represents either a 'systematic violation of the Hatch Act' or an 'institutional bias in favor of NALC's endorsed political candidates.'"
USPS Postmaster General Megan Brennan wrote in her prepared testimony that the USPS did not seek to assist the NALC's "favored candidates."
"I also note that our postal unions do not speak for the Postal Service, and the Postal Service does not speak for our unions," she wrote. "This especially applies in a political context, but it is inherent in any collective bargaining relationship."