Unions Get Their Say In Appropriations Hearing

Posted April 30, 2007 at 6:29pm

Union officials representing Capitol Police officers, Library of Congress employees and other legislative branch staff will get their chance to have a say in matters at their respective agencies during an unusual appropriations hearing today.

The House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch will hold a public hearing as part of the panel’s lengthy process of determining how much money agencies will receive in fiscal 2008. But in addition to fiscal matters, the hearing also will provide union heads the opportunity to discuss management topics their bosses might not otherwise raise.

“It is important for our committee to be able to provide a venue to hear from the public on a variety of topics,” said Jonathan Beeton, spokesman for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Calif.), who chairs the subcommittee.

Today’s hearing is a relatively rare event, although it isn’t unheard of, as other committees hold similar public hearings to get different perspectives on various issues. The legislative branch subcommittee’s most recent public hearing took place in the 108th Congress, but, to be fair, there was no subcommittee in the 109th.

A similar hearing is not on the schedule on the other side of the Capitol, but Senators remain open to holding one at a future time, according to a spokesman for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch.

“We’re looking into exactly what the House is doing,” spokesman Scott Schneider said.

The eclectic mix of witnesses scheduled to testify includes Saul Schniderman, president of the Library of Congress Professional Guild; Dennis Roth, president of the Congressional Research Employees Association; Michael Hutchins, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police, Library of Congress Labor Committee; Andy Maybo, chairman of the Capitol Police Labor Committee; George Lord, chairman of the Joint Council of Unions of the Government Printing Office; Alvin Hardwick, chairman of the GPO Police Labor Committee; Mary Alice Baish, associate Washington affairs representative for the American Association of Law Libraries; John Paré, executive director for strategic initiatives for the National Federation of the Blind; and Paula Olson, staff representative for the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians.

There are a variety of topics that could be brought up by union officials, ranging from funding for new equipment to ensuring employees get pay raises.

“The hearing [today] provides people with the opportunity to testify before our committee who may not have otherwise had that opportunity at our other hearings,” Beeton said.

The hearing also could help appropriators decide how best to fund the various agencies, which are seeking fairly hefty increases for 2008, in part because the fiscal 2007 continuing resolution put a hold on funds.

For example, in its fiscal 2008 budget proposal, the Library of Congress requested $682.2 million, a 14.1 percent boost from last year. Librarian James Billington recently testified that the Library will ask for $21.5 million more to fund its National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, a project that began in 2000 as a way for the Library to collect and catalogue digital data. (That program was received $100 million in funds.)

Aside from concerns about bringing the Library into a digital era, Library union officials could place a focus on confidentiality.

In October 2006, Library officials filed a grievance with the union asking for greater specifics in reports on meetings between union officials and Library employees during work hours. The Library also threatened to put union stewards on leave without pay if they didn’t comply.

Union officials fired back, alleging union busting on the Library’s behalf.

“Employees who speak with a guild representative need to know that they will not be identified to their supervisor, and that the subject matter of their conversation will be private and confidential,” Schniderman told Roll Call at the time.

(Library officials maintained they were merely trying to ensure official work time was used properly.)

The Capitol Police, meanwhile, are asking for $299 million, a 16.8 percent increase from fiscal 2007. Most of the money is expected to go to pay the salaries of the department’s more than 1,600 officers.

But when Chief Phillip Morse appeared before both the Senate and House Appropriations subcommittees on the legislative branch this session, the focus was on replacing the agency’s aging radio system, something that was not made in this year’s budget request. Instead, the department asked for $11 million to fund the current system, rather than ask for the estimated $35 million to replace the system.

Another policing issue that might be brought up today: the status of a four-year plan to merge the Library’s police force with the Capitol Police.