CRS union plans solidarity party against pending job cuts

Members of the Congressional Research Employees Association (CREA) will hold a solidarity party today in lieu of a more festive affair to support employees who stand to lose their jobs in 2006.

"We are not much in the mood for a holiday party," said CREA President Dennis Roth, who explained that the unity party would show support for the 59 employees who will have their positions terminated in September of next year.

The solidarity party comes nearly a week after Congressional Research Service (CRS) Director Daniel Mulhollan issued a memo detailing the progress of the "2006 staffing changes" throughout the organization.

The memo said that 31 employees whose jobs are on the chopping block have applied for the voluntary separation incentive program and nine of those employees have applied for early retirement. The Library of Congress approved all of those applications Dec. 8.

Roth said this group included staff outside the 59 CREA members that are to be eliminated in September.

"CRS augmented the professional retirement counseling program and has acquired a number of additional contract services to help the affected staff with their decisionmaking progress," the memo stated and listed a number of programs held for affected staff.

On Sept. 22, CRS Director Daniel Mulhollan announced his intention to eliminate members of the production-support and audio-visual staff. 

The memo also included job listings for several new positions that have been created within CRS.

In response to concerns raised by CREA, Mulhollan issued a response refuting charges that poor management and ill planning were the cause of the staff cuts. The document refuted that the firings were also not the result of a reduction in force (RIF) move.

"If any of the 59 staff remain in positions to be eliminated and a RIF becomes necessary, formal notification to affected staff and CREA will occur," he said in the memo.

CREA has charged that the affected employees did not receive proper training from CRS and have criticized the agency for letting go staff that serve in lower to mid- level positions staffed by mainly minorities and women. A recent survey by the union found three-quarters of the affected employees are minorities and two-thirds are African-American. Nearly 70 percent are women.

"When management finally acknowledged that technology plays a vital role in how we serve the Congress, it found it more expedient to start over rather than to retrain and retool," Roth told The Hill in an October interview. "Just eliminate those that have given their careers to serving the Congress was the director's response."

In the memo, Mulhollan contended each staff member facing termination took an average of 10 training courses and those with technical jobs had taken 15 per person.

According to a CRS employee affected by the cuts who spoke on the condition of anonymity, these numbers are exaggerated.

"I don't think I went to one training class this year, they may have in other division but [in the memo] they are lumping everyone together," the source said.

The document said, "Preparing affected staff specifically for selected infrastructure support positions through training would not be feasible because many positions are in the field that require specialized expertise generally gained through years of experience."

It added that there are not nearly enough new positions to accommodate affected staff.

According to a CRS source who interviewed for one of the new jobs, some of the new positions descriptions are ambiguous, require taking a pay cut and are time-limited positions. During an interview for a position that was limited to three years, the source was told it had been reduced to a one-year position.

"Why would I want to take a pay cut for a job that offered little certainty," the source asked, who later rejected the CRS offer.

In the memo, Mulhollan implied the loss of the minority employees would have little affected on the diversity composition in CRS.

"Should all 59 staff leave CRS, no new hires come on board and no further attrition occur, minority staff would represent 29.5 percent of the staff, for a decrease of 3.3 percent," the memo said.

Roth contended the percentages were manipulated.

"[CRS] reported the change in percent points rather than the percentage change," he said.

Currently 32.8 percent of the 710 individuals that are employed by CRS are minorities.

Roth said CREA hopes to submit another sound business practice critique of CRS actions in the near future.