Arbitrator Rules for Union in LOC Dispute

Posted July 24, 2007 at 6:25pm

A grievance arbitrator ruled last week that union officials at the Library of Congress properly have reported their representational activities, striking down an LOC attempt to gain more details about such meetings.

Arbitrator James Harkless ruled on July 16 that the LOC Professional Guild had complied with its collective bargaining agreement and the Federal Service Labor Management Relations Statute when it reported its union activities to Library management.

Saul Schniderman, president of the guild, called the ruling a victory for employee rights at the LOC.

“Employees who speak with a union steward can be assured that the subject of the discussion and the identification of the office where the employee works will remain private and confidential,” Schniderman said.

A spokesman for the Library could not be reached by press time Tuesday.

The LOC Office of Workforce Management audits the unions that represent Library employees twice a year to determine how much work time union officials spent to meet with employees.

Under official bargaining agreements, there are caps on how much official time can be spent on approved union activities, which include negotiating pay, hammering out collective bargaining agreements, attending agency meetings and undergoing labor relations training.

On Oct. 16, Workforce Management Director Charles Carron filed an official grievance with the guild, asking for greater specifics in reports regarding meetings between union officials and Library employees during work hours.

Carron also threatened to put union officers and stewards on leave without pay or forced leave if they did not report more detailed information.

At the time, Library officials argued that they needed more information about union-employee meetings to ensure work time was being used properly.

But union officials immediately disputed those claims, arguing that providing additional information to LOC management threatened to silence union activities at the agency and could amount to union busting.

“This grievance has created a chill in the air at the Library of Congress,” Schniderman said. “And the threat of loss of pay called into question the institution’s commitment to the values of participation and free expression.”

More than 700 e-mails and letters of protest were sent to Librarian of Congress James Billington after the grievance was filed, according to the guild, which represents more than 1,600 employees.

The guild also filed a grievance against the Office of Workforce Management, charging that the office’s original grievance was an unfair labor practice because it threatened to put guild stewards on leave without pay.

Harkless ruled in favor of LOC management in that grievance case. Still, Schniderman said officials are pleased with the arbitrator’s ruling.

“I’m very relieved,” Schniderman said. “We’re very relieved here in the guild office.”