CREA Appeals Latest Decision in Dispute

Posted September 4, 2007 at 6:32pm

Union officials at the Library of Congress are fighting to receive the same treatment as another LOC union, appealing an order requiring them to be more specific in reporting representational activities.

The Congressional Research Employees Association has filed an “exception,” or appeal, with the Federal Labor Relations Authority against a grievance arbitrator’s decision that CREA’s reports of union activity are too vague. It’s the most recent development in a months-long disagreement between the Library and two of its unions.

“We believe his decision goes above and beyond,” CREA President Dennis Roth said of the arbitrator. “He’s not interpreting the contract clause. He’s going beyond interpretation.”

Last year, the Library claimed that CREA and the LOC Professional Guild didn’t report union-related activities that take place during official time with enough detail. Both unions disputed that claim — and both cases made it to an arbitrator.

But while the Guild’s arbitrator sided with the union, CREA was not so lucky. Arbitrator Robert T. Simmelkjaer ruled that CREA’s reports were too vague and he ordered the union to redo all of its reports since September 2006. Based on those reworked reports, Simmelkjaer will decide if some union officials should be forced to take unpaid or annual leave for a portion of the representational activity.

That order has been delayed while the FLRA considers CREA’s appeal. The Library is confident the FLRA will not take up the appeal, said LOC spokesman Matt Raymond, but the Library will file an opposition if the appeal is heard.

Whatever the outcome, Guild President Saul Schniderman said the Library has created a hostile environment by dragging the issue so far up the chain.

“We’re still extremely concerned with our colleagues at the Congressional Research Service,” Schniderman said. “This is not the way an institution such as the Library of Congress should be handling labor relations. There has to be a better way.”

CREA’s appeal argues that Simmelkjaer overstepped his authority as an arbitrator by making a ruling outside of the bargaining agreement, which CREA claims does not require detailed reports. It states that he should have considered ordering the Library and CREA to renegotiate the agreement — something the Guild and the Library already have begun.

Although CREA and the Guild have different bargaining agreements with the Library, Roth said the arbitrators’ rulings seem unnecessarily disparate.

“When you have two unions in the same organization, you would hope the ruling would be similar,” Roth said. “It doesn’t have to be the same.”

The bargaining agreement between CREA and the Library puts caps on how much official time can be spent on union activities, such as meeting with employees and negotiating contracts. But the Library claims that CREA hasn’t reported these activities with enough detail to determine whether the representational activity is “reasonable” during work hours. Currently, union officials fill out a form with the time and date of a meeting and then write a one-line description, such as “discussion with employee of dispute” or “association meeting on representational matters.” The Library wants the union to report such details as the employee’s division and the subject of the discussion.

Not only is such detail unnecessary, Roth said, but it also stalls union activity. Employees may be apprehensive about meeting with a union representative, and union volunteers may not want to subject themselves to that kind of aggressive scrutiny, he said.

“There’s a chilling effect,” he said. “If I’m going to have to report each and every thing I do, who’s going to want to take this job?”