Library of Congress flooded with pro-union e-mails

More than 300 e-mails and letters have been sent to Librarian of Congress James Billington urging him to stop “union-busting” at his institution, according to a union representative.

Since Jan. 10, employees, librarians, members of library groups nationwide and labor-movement representatives have picked up the letter and have begun to circulate it, according to Saul Schniderman, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 2910, the Library of Congress Professional Guild.

“I strongly urge you to immediately cease interfering with the representational rights of AFSCME Local 2910, the Library of Congress Professional Guild,” the letter to Billington states. “Employees who participate in labor organizations, or who — as officers or stewards — assist their colleagues in the workplace, must have the right to do so without fear of penalty or reprisal.”

The Library of Congress (LoC) has opened a collective bargaining agreement and threatened to put union members on leave without pay, Schniderman said.

LoC defended its actions yesterday.

“The Library’s actions regarding the reporting of official time are consistent with federal laws that require such time be limited to that which is ‘reasonable, necessary and in the public interest,’ as well as a report of the Inspector General,” LoC spokesman Matt Raymond said.

Raymond added that employee confidentiality would not be compromised.

“The Library is seeking only a return to the status quo as it previously existed among all Guild representatives, and our requests will in no way compromise employee confidentiality,” he said.

A grievance was filed against the Guild, the first ever against the more than 30-year-old union, Schniderman said. He said the grievance was “over the specificity of reports we give to the LoC. We feel it’s a breach of privacy.”

On Jan. 25, the grievance was heard by an outside arbitrator. Briefs from LoC and Guild attorneys are due next week. The parties are also in mediation because the LoC contested a portion of the collective bargaining rights.

In the fall, LoC Director of Workforce Management Charles Carron filed a grievance against the Guild, saying it was in violation of an article of a collective bargaining agreement for failing to provide “insufficient detail in official time reports.” He said the LoC needs to know the purpose and topics of meetings, as well as the names of supervisors and managers for each union contact.

“Due to this insufficient detail, the Library is unable to determine whether all time being claimed as official time is being used for representational functions, nor is the Library able to determine whether such use is reasonable under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute,” the grievance filed by Carron states.

Carron said Guild representatives must provide sufficient detail in official time reports to allow the LoC to determine whether time used for representational activities is “reasonable.” Any “insufficiently documented official time from Sept. 1, 2006, and ongoing will be converted to annual leave or leave without pay,” states the grievance.

Schniderman called the prospect of leave without pay a threat.

“It’s draconian, trying to coerce the president, vice president and stewards in a certain way,” Schniderman said. “[Leave without pay] is a threat.”

The letter and more information about the Guild, which represents 1,600 LoC professionals, have been posted on an AFL-CIO affiliated website.

“Under the guise of ‘accountability,’ the Library of Congress is attempting to chill communications with employees, curtail the union’s use of representational time and restrict the local’s ability to do its job,” documentation on the website states. “Many consider these efforts to coerce union officials by docking their pay to be union-busting.”
Schniderman said that the members of the Guild have been filling out time-reporting forms for years without incident.

“By identifying what division they’re in or the problem, it goes against the grain of what the Library of Congress is,” Schniderman said. “We want to make sure the environment is confidential. We are bound to retain [employees’] privacy rights.”