Tour Guides Cite Better Working Conditions

Posted October 1, 2010 at 4:23pm

Just months ago, Capitol Visitor Center tour guides had a list of complaints and no one to hand it to.

While the list may remain, employees said that since they publicly announced their intention to unionize, management has been willing to hear them out.

In June, 138 tour guides and visitors’ assistants said they would unionize. Last week, they were officially certified as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 658.

“Things have gotten better,” said Carl Goldman, executive director of AFSCME Council 26. “This happened because the union was organizing.”

Things further improved after Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) sent a letter to the Architect of the Capitol in August expressing concerns about CVC employees, said a tour guide and member of the organizing committee.

“Management has been scrambling to make things better and we really appreciate that,” the tour guide said. “And it’s a relief to know that not only are we talking, but they’re also listening.”

Their first focus has been allowing tour guides to bring water bottles to their outside posts and securing better uniforms for cold or hot weather.

CVC employees can now bring water with them, but the guide said they would prefer water to be provided for them so they don’t have to leave their posts to refill.

AOC Stephen Ayers said Thursday in a hearing before the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management that he is working to resolve the uniform issues.

[IMGCAP(1)]Staff was measured for uniforms last week and they’ve been told they’re getting winter parkas, but that the attire may not be waterproof, the tour guide said.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Norton told Ayers to report back to her in two weeks on the status of the uniforms.

“We look forward to discussing the next steps with AFSCME Council 26 representatives, and agree with … testimony noting that ‘significant changes’ have been made by AOC and CVC management in ‘addressing certain longstanding problems,’” AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki said.

Starting in October, the AOC will provide pagers to tour guides to alert them to emergency situations, Ayers announced in written testimony at the hearing.

This is a return to a practice that was abandoned two years ago, when the AOC began managing the tour guide staff.

“We’re very excited about that,” the tour guide said. “The more we return to old policies, the better things work.”

Ayers also announced that the office will provide additional training, add a safety specialist to CVC staff and establish a safety and health committee.

Union representatives said they plan to meet with management this week and hope to figure out some of the details of these plans.

The union will elect interim officers in the coming weeks, who will serve for two to three months. The interim officers will help draft a constitution and hold contract negotiations before an official election takes place.