Architect Employees Nix Union Contract

Posted October 3, 2003 at 6:27pm

After four years of negotiations, Architect of the Capitol employees represented by a local union rejected a proposed collective bargaining agreement, sending contract drafters from both sides back to the drawing board.

“This contract will be renegotiated. Exactly how [and] when … remains to be seen,” said Carl Goldman, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 26, which represents AOC workers.

A spokeswoman for AOC said the agency plans to restart talks.

“We are very disappointed that after six years of active and good faith negotiations, the union failed to ratify the proposed contract and has offered no reasons as to why it was rejected,” Eva Malecki said. “We will make every effort to reach out to the union’s representatives to seek clarification and strive to reach an agreement that is satisfactory to both parties.”

Although it is not unusual for first-ever contract negotiations for federal employees to take years, Goldman acknowledged that it is uncommon for a negotiated contract to then be rejected by members of the union.

Union officials are now in the process of conferring with members as to why they voted down the contract, but Goldman said the long-poisoned atmosphere between AOC employees and management was a large contributing factor.

“There is a legacy of mistrust of management’s intentions,” Goldman said. “I think that played into the rejection of the contract. People just don’t believe [in] anything agreed to by the management.

“I think the difference between AOC and other federal agencies is the fact that until the CAA, the employees had [few] protections.”

The 1995 Congressional Accountability Act gave legislative branch employees the right to unionize. Those rights currently exist in all offices except Members’ personal offices, committees and a few others. (For employees in those offices to receive those rights, Congress would have to approve additional bargaining regulations, which the House refused to do in 1996.)

Referring to the AOC employees, Goldman added,“This is something they take very, very seriously,” perhaps more than other federal employees eligible for collective bargaining because of the agency’s history with its employees.

The actual vote was kept confidential, but Goldman said the number of people who voted was significant enough that officials determined that it was representative of 350 AOC employees eligible to participate in collective bargaining.

About 225 AOC employees are represented by Local 626, which is one of 18 local unions that make up Council 26. Two of the other locals represent Library of Congress employees, who received collective bargaining rights (along with Government Printing Office employees) under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Act of 1978.

Because the contract was not ratified, representatives from the union and management will likely restart the negotiations, either picking them up where they left off or starting from scratch.

“There needs to be a lot of internal discussions,” Goldman said.

He was quick to point out, however, that even though this round failed, “The point of a union and union negotiations is to give unions a say in personnel policies. This is the first time that workers at AOC have a voice in the full range of personnel policies that affect them.”