Markup of Police Merger Bill Called Off

Posted October 16, 2007 at 6:31pm

Officials on Tuesday canceled a planned markup of the bill implementing the merger of the Capitol Police and Library of Congress force, the same day the LOC’s police union hit Capitol Hill to express its opposition.

Members of the Library of Congress Police Labor Committee went office to office Tuesday, distributing letters to House Members detailing their reasons for opposing the current conditions of the merger, which was to be addressed by the House Administration Committee today. Library police remain worried that the legislation requires officers who do not meet age requirements to become civilian employees, according to the letter.

“These officers are not merely employees,” the letter reads. “They have chosen a career of service in law enforcement, which should not be denied them in this fashion.”

The measure also would eliminate the current retirement plan for LOC officers and protections given to officers by its current collective bargaining agreement with the Library, the letter states. If the legislation is not altered, the union plans to file an unfair labor practice action and possibly lawsuits alleging civil rights and other violations.

House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) decided to cancel today’s markup so he can work through some of the unresolved merger issues, spokesman Kyle Anderson said.

“He wants to meet face to face with the parties and make sure he’s done everything possible to facilitate discussion,” Anderson said. “He’s got really strong ties to law enforcement and labor, and really respects what they do.”

Brady introduced the merger bill in late September after holding a hearing and a series of negotiations with Library and Capitol Police officials. Security is perhaps Brady’s top priority as chairman, and he repeatedly has said he is committed to moving the merger forward.

Brady has support from ranking member Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), who is a co-sponsor of the measure.

“This has been a coordinated effort that will permit all LOC Police employees to join the USCP without pay or benefit reductions,” Ehlers spokeswoman Salley Collins said. “While we are pleased to see this merger move forward, we must ensure that the core mission of each entity is preserved.”

Under the current language, the transfer of LOC officers to the Capitol Police would begin as soon as they are deemed eligible. Any officer who transfers meet service requirements to the Capitol Police cannot lose basic pay, rank or grade. Leave and compensatory time also would be protected under the measure.

All LOC officers will join the Capitol Police in some capacity, although those who do not meet certain age, tenure and physical requirements would become civilian employees.

Under merger conditions, 23 of the Library’s 99 officers would be placed in civilian roles because they do not meet service requirements, according to the letter.

“Everyone was taken care of but the police of the Library,” said Michael Hutchins, chairman of the LOC police union. “We have to say we want all of our members to move over.”

Many LOC officers who survive the initial transfer and become Capitol Police would be forced to retire at age 57, the mandatory retirement age for Capitol Police, the letter reads. Mostly everyone else would need to retire by age 60.

This differs from current LOC regulations, which allows officers to work up to any age as long as they meet performance standards.

There also is concern that the Library’s bargaining agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police would not apply to transferred employees. For example, any grievances filed before the transfer will expire upon the transfer, unless a hearing has begun. If not, transferees can refile grievances.

“Neither the Capitol Police nor the Library of Congress has provided the FOP/LOC with a coherent statement as to why the right to work and the right to due process should be eliminated,” the letter reads. “The only conclusion that can be drawn … is that the proposed bill is intended to eliminate the FOP/LOC officers from the ranks of law enforcement for improper reasons.”

In the letter, union officials ask that Congress include a grandfather clause in the merger language allowing current LOC officers to maintain their existing conditions of employment should they choose to do so.

Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider declined to talk about the bill on Tuesday, saying the department does not comment on pending legislation. Library officials had not seen the union’s letter by press time and declined comment.

Despite their opposition to the current merger measure, LOC officers are not opposed to the overall merger itself, Hutchins said.

“We want the Hill to be protected,” he said. “And we do believe there needs to be seamless security.”