One influential senator is pushing for a program to help Library of Congress workers address their workplace grievances, but no one is exactly sure yet how it will work.
On June 11, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., added language to the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill that would launch a pilot program at the library, giving LOC workers access to the same processes for resolving workplace disputes as House and Senate workers. Only a few sections of the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act, which lays out House and Senate workers' rights, apply to the Library of Congress. The section on resolving administrative disputes does not apply, which is a problem according to Blunt.
“When I became the chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library, we began looking for sensible ways to provide the Library with the tools it needs moving forward," Blunt, who also chairs the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, said in a statement. "The pilot program and resulting study will help inform our thinking as we consider expanding Congressional Accountability Act coverage of the Library of Congress."
In addition to his positions as chairman of the Library and Rules committees, Blunt is an appropriator and Republican Conference vice chairman.
Blunt's amendment instructs the Office of Compliance, the independent congressional agency that enforces the CAA, to develop the pilot program that would give LOC employees the opportunity to utilize CAA resolution processes such as counseling, mediation and administrative hearings.
However, library workers can already utilize resolution processes through their own system. The library's Office of Inclusiveness, Opportunity and Compliance is tasked with resolving complaints, and the library's three unions also assist with dispute resolution.
Saul Schniderman, the president of the Library of Congress Professional Guild, said he was surprised when he learned of Blunt's amendment. He said in a June 18 phone interview, "We haven't really been briefed on this yet.”
“This report language is saying that we can avail ourselves of another process," Schniderman said. "We don’t know what that means.”
Schniderman heads one of three unions at the LOC. His group represents 1,250 of the more than 3,000 workers, and includes reference librarians and IT specialists. He explained that workers have had alternate dispute resolutions for more than 20 years, but drew a distinction between a workplace dispute, such as a complaint about a job itself, and a charge of discrimination or harassment, which falls under an equal employment opportunity complaint.
“The processes for workplace disputes are very effective," Schniderman said. "The processes for EEO are ineffective. Extremely ineffective.”
Schniderman explained that when a worker files an EEO complaint, a process unfolds that involves an investigation, mediation and an administrative hearing. The hearing results in a recommendation sent to the Librarian of Congress' office, who seeks advice from the general counsel. But since the general counsel has a vested interest in protecting the library, that advice might not be impartial, so Schniderman said that leads to a conflict of interest.
"Really it just kind of goes around in a circle,” he said. He speculated the Office of Compliance could bring some impartiality to the process, but said he didn't know if Blunt's pilot program would solve the problem because he doesn't know how that program would work.
And, it seems, neither does the Office of Compliance.
A source with the office said this is the first time it has had to develop this type of program, so it is still figuring out what it entails. The office is working to set up meetings with library staff and "other stakeholders," such as the unions, to determine the next steps.
Adding to the confusion is the question of whether the office can even move forward with the program because it's part of a spending bill that has yet to be enacted. The Office of Compliance is also working on a tight deadline, as the Blunt amendment would set a Dec. 1 deadline for an interim report on the program.
Blunt indicated the tight deadline is due in part to Librarian of Congress James H. Billington's recent announcement he is retiring on Jan. 1. "Dr. Billington’s retirement creates an opportunity to put some reforms in place for his successor," Blunt said.
Despite questions surrounding the pilot program, the parties involved seemed receptive to the idea. LOC spokesperson Gayle Osterberg said in a statement the library will "work closely and cooperatively" with the Office of Compliance to carry out the program.