By Jackie Kucinich - 05/02/06 12:00 AM EDT
A hearing was held last week to determine whether the Congressional Research Service (CRS) violated a collective-bargaining agreement when the agency fired 59 employees last September.
The Congressional Research Employees Association filed the grievance against CRS on Sept. 22. In it, the employees allege that the agency violated their contract by not issuing an official reduction-in-force notice, or RIF, which is used when laying off employees to protect them and give them certain rights.
By failing to issue a RIF when the workers were told they would be let go, the union alleges, the CRS deprived them of those rights.
Under the contract, if a RIF had been issued, then a hiring freeze would have had to be instituted inside the CRS for up to 90 days. Employees would have retained their seniority, allowing them to be placed in other jobs at their pay grade.
If no positions could be found inside the agency, the employees would have been eligible for positions inside the Library of Congress, which oversees the CRS. If no comparable positions were open and the terminated employees had more years of experience at the Library of Congress than individuals already working in their pay grade, they could bump the less experienced workers out of their positions.
“There is a high probability our employees would bump their employees,” said union President Dennis Roth.
He said he could not comment on the specifics of the hearing, citing a gag order issued by arbitrator Barbara Franklin.
The hearing, which took place April 24 and 25, gave the two parties the opportunity to present their sides to a single arbitrator in the Madison Building on Capitol Hill.
Trish Taylor Shuman, a spokeswoman for the Library of Congress, said that “if there is a RIF in the future, the affected employees will be afforded all of their contractual RIF rights.” She added, “Until we receive the final award, the arbitrator has imposed a strict confidentiality order.”
The union chose to take the grievance to an arbitrator after CRS Director Daniel Mulhollan and the Library of Congress’s Office of Workforce Management denied two previous grievances filed last fall.
Roth said the union and the CRS must file briefs to the arbitrator by June 12. A decision is expected by mid-July.
According to an April 19 release from the union, a reduction in force is a situation created when union employees are terminated, resulting in “involuntary reassignment, transfer, change to lower grade or separation of employees of their benefits.”
On Sept. 22, CRS management informed 59 employees in production support, technical-support assistance and audiovisual positions that their jobs would be eliminated.
Mulhollan defended the agency’s decision during testimony March 2 before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch. He told appropriators that the CRS extended several courtesies to the employees, including announcing the changes a year in advance and offering them early retirement benefits as well as career counseling.
“It is our hope that the affected staff will either retire or find alternative employment before the functions are eliminated,” he said in his testimony. “If that does not occur, we will institute a reduction in force in accordance with governing library regulations and our collective-bargaining agreement.”
“There is not another agency that I know of that has given staff a year to find another job,” he added.
While many of the affected staff decided to take the buyout and opt for early retirement, Roth said many of the employees chose that option because of a lack of information.
“Our employees would have received a lot more information” had a RIF been issued immediately, Roth explained.
Twenty-nine of the affected employees have remained at the CRS, Roth said.
On Oct. 20, members of the Tri-Minority Caucus, made up of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), wrote a letter to Librarian James Billington expressing concern over the library’s employment practices.
“This recent decision to terminate a disproportionate number of minority staff only adds to our concern about the treatment of minorities at the Library of Congress,” the letter said. Two-thirds of the affected employees are African-American, and 70 percent are women.
A spokeswoman for Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.), who headed a task force to investigate the caucus’s concerns, did not return a call for comment.
House Administration Committee ranking member Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.) had asked former Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) to hold a hearing on the matter; however, nothing further has happened, according to a Millender-McDonald spokeswoman.