Library-Guild Negotiations Draw Another Third Party

Posted September 28, 2007 at 6:15pm

Negotiations over how a Library of Congress union should report its activities stalled last week, sending the issue to an impartial panel and restarting a bitter argument over employee confidentiality.

“It means that the Library of Congress and its professional employees could not reach an agreement, and it’s shameful,” said Saul Schniderman, president of the LOC Professional Guild. “We’re back at square one.”

For years, the union has reported its activities during work hours with descriptors such as “discuss complaint” and tallied the total hours used. But the Library wants the descriptions to be more detailed, and it has been fighting for this added specificity for months. The LOC filed a grievance last fall, but an arbitrator struck it down in July. So the Library and union officials began reworking parts of the bargaining agreement.

But after a few weeks of negotiations with the help of a federal mediator, the Library has asked the Federal Service Impasses Panel to step in. It’s a last resort, and it means the terms of the bargaining agreement will be in the hands of the panel.

The Library is optimistic that the panel will rule in its favor, said LOC spokesman Matt Raymond.

“This [level of reporting activities] is something that three out of the four Library unions are doing. It’s what the inspector general of the Library has said needs to be done,” he said, adding that “it’s frankly an impossibility” to determine whether the union’s activities are a reasonable use of work time without more details.

But the Guild is upset over how the Library wants it to report those activities, especially regarding employee confidentiality. Before negotiations stalled, the Library proposed that the Guild assign a unique code to every employee who meets with union officials. The union would report that code to the Library when recording confidential meetings and keep a separate file matching the code to a name. For example: “discussion with Employee 101 over harassment.” Although not accessed immediately, the file matching code to name would be available during an investigation — which would be done by the LOC investigator general, according to Raymond.

It’s a process Schniderman calls “naming names on the installment plan.”

“They want us to snitch on the employees who come talk to us,” he said.

The proposal would allow Library officials to determine whether the union spent a “reasonable” amount of time working on a single employee’s issue without knowing the employee’s name, Raymond said. But he admitted that no other LOC union uses this system.

“The proposal is intended to ensure confidentiality,” he said. “The Library has no desire whatsoever to seek names of individuals.”

Raymond stressed that this proposal targets only one instance where the union needs to get more specific. The Guild performs various representational activities, all of which need to be reported with more detail so the Library can determine whether it was a legal use of work time, he said. The union can conduct some business during work hours while internal business must be done off the clock. More details on those activities would help the LOC separate one from the other, Raymond said.

But Schniderman said the Library refuses to compromise. The Guild proposed a report that would leave out any employee identifier but would outline the level of description necessary for union activities. The Library asked the impasses panel to step in soon after that idea was proposed, Schniderman said. It’s an example, he said, of the LOC’s desire to silence the union.

“We tried to meet their concerns,” he said, “but they met us with uncompromising extremism.”