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The Voice of the Library of Congress Professional Guild


May 4, 2004

RIFs and Bullying Tactics Plague the Law Library
by Saul Schniderman

The Law Library of Congress is the largest legal and legislative library in the world. It’s primary mission is to “provide the United States Congress with legal research and reference service in foreign, international, and comparative law and with reference assistance in American law” (Library of Congress Budget Justification, Fiscal Year 2005).The Law Library is a great library but, over the years, it’s employees have had to watch its research staff shrink and struggle with a management style that has been defined by the Law Librarian, Rubens Medina. That style has been characterized by current and former employees as “autocratic,” “closed,” “non-participative,” and “decide and announce” or “decide and not announce.” While in recent years the Library of Congress, along with other federal agencies, has promoted a more consultative and facilitative management approach towards employees, the Law Library has been stuck in time. Maybe Dr. Medina cannot or will not change.

Many Law Library professionals (foreign law specialists, librarians and computer specialists) have joined the Guild in an effort to establish a more fair and democratic workplace. Also, they have sought to enhance their careers by insisting that they participate in the policies and practices of the Law Library. A modern and progressive work culture can lead to a high quality of public service and performance. To attain this goal Guild members and stewards in the Law Library have utilized the techniques of collective bargaining, the grievance procedure, and testimony before Congress.

Now, Law Library employees, especially foreign law specialists, face a great challenge: the threat of job loss due to a Reduction-in-Force. On March 25th three staffers – George Glos, Takeo Nishioka, and Bozena Sarnecka-Crouch, with over seventy-four years of combined years of service – received RIF notices. According to Law Library management their positions are being abolished because of “curtailment of work.” The loss of these positions would bring the total number of current legal specialists to fifteen – down from over thirty when Dr. Billington became the Librarian of Congress. It also will leave the Law Library with no specialists for Central and Eastern Europe.

For the next 90 days Ty Mason, a contractor hired by Human Resources Services, will explore placement opportunities for the three Law Library staffers. The Guild has pledged its support of these employees in their efforts to obtain decent treatment and a soft landing.

Because of these RIFs and because Dr. Medina has failed to establish a relationship with his staff based on honesty and mutual respect, a great fear and uncertainty exists among the ranks. That nagging question – “who is next?” – is being asked in the Law Library. Is “curtailment of work” the real reason behind the RIFs? The whole story needs to be told.

In 1996 the Guild and Library management signed an agreement concerning the relocation of Law Library staff. The agreement was negotiated during a time when the entire Library was undergoing an ergonomic revival of sorts. Long standing work environment issues became paramount especially in the Law Library, where employees worked in offices and cubicles of varying configurations and sizes, some with doors, some without doors, etc.

The negotiated agreement was an attempt to rationalize and equalize the assignment of work space in the Law Library. It stated that, as work spaces became vacant, assignment of these spaces would be decided by consensus among the staff. If general consensus was not reached a formula based on grade level plus seniority in the Law Library would be applied.

The agreement seemed to work. Then, in March of 2001, management unilaterally violated it by failing to offer an office to a legal specialist who had worked in the Law Library since 1980. The Guild filed a grievance, which was denied, and the Guild invoked arbitration. Two other violations of the agreement followed, in 2001 and 2002, and the Guild grieved these also. Each of these grievances worked their way to the Labor Management Relations Office, where they were flatly denied. The grievances then proceeded down the long road towards arbitration by a neutral third party, which would decide the case on the merits and impose a decision on the parties.

With the legal specialists fuming and the Guild angry at the wanton violations of its negotiated agreement, the Law Librarian let the Labor Relations Office handle the three grievances. He took no action whatsoever to mediate or resolve the grievances. In fact, he never once met with the affected employees to discuss these matters.

The grievances were consolidated and a hearing was held on Sept. 11, 2003, before Arbitrator Bernard Ries. The Guild was represented by H. David Kelly, an attorney for Beins, Axelrod, Kraft, Gleason and Gibson, whose services were provided by AFSCME Council 26, the Capital Area Council of Federal Employees. Attorney Kelly argued the case brilliantly and, on December 12, 2003, Arbitrator Reis ruled in favor of the Guild. He ordered that the remedies sought in the grievances be implemented: the offices in question should be offered to the legal specialists according to the terms of the negotiated agreement. There seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel for Law Library employees and for the Guild who suffered through three years of non-compliance with a mid-term collective bargaining agreement.

However, the apparent victory for the Guild and for the principle of collective bargaining was only on paper. Management ignored the arbitrator’s award and failed to implement the remedies until the Guild brought pressure to bear. It wasn’t until February 25, 2004, that management finally sent out an email asking the legal specialists to submit their bids for moving into the available offices. One of the offices in question was filled with supplies and storage material, and management procrastinated about having it cleaned out. Throughout March, Guild representatives and Attorney Kelly telephoned and emailed the Labor Relations Office about the failure to implement the arbitrator’s award.

While the Law Library has experienced labor relations breakdowns before, this failure to implemented remedies ordered by an neutral arbitrator was capricious. It was in this atmosphere that on March 25th three employees received notices that their positions were to be abolished and that they were placed in a RIF status. To date, the terms of the arbitrator’s award have not been implemented as it appears that employees feel too intimidated to make bids for the offices in question. With RIFs in the air, who would step forward to lay claim to an office that has been the subject of grievance arbitration?

Unfortunately there is more to this story. On Sept. 8, 2003 Dr. Medina announced the appointment of W. Gary Sharp, Sr., as the Law Library’s Director of Legal Research. Mr. Sharp, according to an announcement circulated to staff is an “internationally experienced attorney, academician, lecturer and author” whose last job was Director of Global and Functional Affairs in the State Dept. Mr. Sharp’s appointment has sharpened divisions in the Law Library between staff and management. His management style mirrors that of the Law Librarian: top-down, authoritarian, and autocratic.

On October 8, 2003, one month after his appointment, Mr. Sharp began a meeting of the Western Law Division, by informing the staff that, in his former position in the State Department, part of his duties were to reduce the staff there. He went on to say that the Law Library staff should not worry because, “I have not been hired here to terminate people.” It was a strange way for a new manager to begin a meeting.

Then came the management directives and actions, which seemed to be designed to establish his control over a veteran professional staff which included many GS-15s. He informed the staff that there was “chaos” in the Law Library and that he intended to remedy it. He unilaterally changed various long-standing Library-wide procedures without issuing an explanatory memo. He denied “use-or-lose” annual leave to a staffer around the Christmas holidays. He sat on a leave request for days and then surprised the employee by denying it at the last minute. He arbitrarily issued deadlines for work projects without any justification. He has disapproved requests to work credit hours. On Feb. 11th he walked into a staff meeting of the Eastern and Western Law Division and exclaimed “I’m surprised to see so many of you still here!” Was this a joke? Was it an implied threat?

I cannot go into details about individuals who Chief Steward Melinda Friend and I have counseled in the Guild Office. Suffice it to say, that a hostile work environment is being introduced into the Law Library, which undermines the morale and esprit de corps of the staff. Many Law Library employees have come to us complaining of stress, anger, humiliation, shame and loss of sleep. This hostile work environment is being created by one person who is abusing his position of authority

Acting as their representative, the Guild has directly interceded on behalf of these employees. We intend to vigorously represent the RIFed employees. The possibility of job loss exists.

For the sake of the Law Library and its staff, I hope the Guild succeeds.

(Saul Schniderman is president of the Guild).

Guild protests to Congress
AOC Seeks Authority to Establish Fire Safety Standards
by Nan Thompson Ernst

Our landlord, the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) Alan Hantman, has asked Congress to designate his office as the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) to establish building and fire codes for all of its buildings. The Architect included this AHJ provision in his fiscal 2005 budget request. If approved, it would become part of the appropriations legislation for 2005. The Guild opposes Mr. Hantman’s request because it would conflict with the current governing authority of OSHA, whose mandates are enforced by the Office of Compliance established by the Congressional Accountability Act in 1995.

For the past few years, the Architect has been chafing from safety hazard citations issued by the Office of Compliance and yearns for the old days when no regulatory agency examined its buildings. We think oversight is necessary and that accountability is just what Congress was seeking when it established the Office of Compliance. Recently the Guild sent letters to key members of Congress urging them to vote against the AHJ legislation because it will weaken the authority of the Office of Compliance. Here we present our reasons to you.

In a letter dated February 12, 2004 to C.W. Bill Young, chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, the AOC explains his request. Hantman argues that he needs final authority to preserve historical integrity and aesthetics. For example, he describes the beautiful and grand monumental stairways in the U.S. Capitol and declares that strict code compliance would require enclosure and thus destruction of such features. The Guild agrees that historical integrity and aesthetics are worthy considerations but we maintain that solutions can be found to protect our historic landmarks and to protect the life safety of occupants at the same time.

Life safety codes explain the need for an exit path which is protected from fire and smoke so that occupants can get out of a burning building. This is common sense. One protected exit path can be designated to bypass the beautiful monumental stairways and leave them intact. Regulatory agencies, such as the Office of Compliance, will assist the architect in finding solutions to the special problems of historic buildings. The Capitol itself and the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building are among the most important historic landmarks in the nation. Everyone wants to preserve their historical integrity.

Hantman does not mention the Library in his letter to Congressman Young, but we offer our own example of wrangling over codes with the AOC. Historic buildings are exempted in some codes from providing “areas of refuge” to disabled people who are unable to evacuate without assistance. Exemptions are also written for buildings codes with the AOC. Historic buildings are exempted in some codes from providing “areas of refuge” to disabled people who are unable to evacuate without assistance. Exemptions are also written for buildings which have a complete system of sprinklers and all other modern systems for containing or suppressing fire and smoke, the logic being that such systems will adequately prevent the spread of fire and smoke so that stranded occupants can be relocated to a safe area of the building or sufficient time will be available for emergency personnel to evacuate them.

The AOC does not provide areas of refuge in Library buildings. In the past, they have claimed an exemption from this requirement available for historic or existing buildings. Now the Architect’s office states that it intends to complete the sprinkler system and thus will not be required to provide areas of refuge. Of course, even if it can be done, this wondrous sprinkler system is many years away from completion. And, even when the sprinkler system is in full operation, all the other required means for containing and suppressing smoke and fire will not be in place.

Despite glaring deficiencies this is the Architect’s position, so the Library’s management has stepped into the breach and simply designated elevator lobbies as areas of refuge. Unlike the Madison building, elevator lobbies in the Jefferson and Adams buildings afford no protection from smoke and fire and thus do not qualify as refuge areas. Disabled and injured people who are unable to evacuate could be stranded in the Jefferson and Adams buildings, with no protection from smoke and fire during a fire emergency. In addition, communication from the Police Command Center to the elevator lobbies has been poor. The Guild is advocating to provide and create areas of refuge in Library buildings. We believe that an area of refuge can be equipped with communication lines as well as fire and smoke protection for people who may be stranded in the Jefferson and Adams buildings. OSHA mandates such protection for disabled people and we would like to see full compliance with OSHA and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Currently the Office of Compliance is reviewing the matter, so we hold on to some hope. Protecting health and safety in the workplace is an arduous, long-term effort for everyone involved.

The Guild has over 25 years of experience dealing with health and safety issues at the Library of Congress. We believe that – when compliance with OSHA regulations and building codes is concerned – only a neutral, professional organization, like the Office of Compliance, can make a real difference. Fire and building safety compliance as practiced voluntarily by the AOC has not worked in the past and there is no reason to think that voluntary compliance will be sufficient in the future. We do commend the office of the AOC for its new safety office and improved safety record, and feel confident that its hard work will benefit the Library. However, even with good intentions, the AOC does not have the expertise to make final determinations on fire and building safety codes. Furthermore, its determinations will always be suspect because the Architect’s office has too much interest in and history of exempting itself from fire and safety standards.

The Guild is a vigilant advocate of fire safety and emergency planning. We will keep you posted on such developments.

(Nan Thompson Ernst is a Guild representative on the LC Safety & Health Committee)

How I Came To Join The Union
by Tom McGettrick

I have worked at the Library of Congress for the past twenty-five years and the Library has been very good to me. I always try to give back as much as they have given me, but the recent changes that Information Technology Services (ITS) is undergoing give me pause to wonder if the current changes are going to benefit LC in the long run.

I have noticed the hiring of many project leaders, yet when the director was asked last November what projects were on the horizon for 2004, none were cited. Is this the precursor to contracting out ITS? Do the project leaders become COTRs? I know the director has said many times he was not trying to contract away ITS but I wonder: doth he protest too much?

Since I have been at the LC I have never heard so many complaints about ITS, the seeming lack of direction and a lack of trust in the new management team and vice versa. Obviously change is going to bring some angst to staff, but concerns are about a lack of direction in how we fulfill our mission to provide support for LC and the Congress. Staff are second-guessed and not consulted before changes are made. Staff assignments are given outside of regular channels without the knowledge of the person's direct supervisor. The current climate seem contradictory to the eight values of the Library of Congress especially effectiveness, innovation, fairness, participation, communication and excellence. The remaining two – service and quality – are still being fulfilled by the majority of the staff, but morale is flagging.

When the vacant Group Leader was posted not one person from my group bid on the position. Another person - who just resigned - became tired of being second guessed, told how to do his job and felt that his job was going to be turned over to contractor. A tremendous loss especially since he was so productive plus he was one of our younger staff in the Systems Engineering Group (SEG). Also, with the advent of the Internet, multiple servers and increased storage our workload has increased many times over, yet our staffing has remained the same.

Another perception in ITS I want to report on: it appears that being old is synonymous with being non-productive. There is an awful lot of talk about being a team player and team building, but it seems to be an ambiguous cover for stifling dissent. Some of this may be due to misunderstanding, but there are no regular ITS staff meetings to disseminate information, plans etc. We have gone from monthly meetings under the previous director to quarterly meetings, yet here it is, last week in April, and we still have not had a second quarterly meeting. Our last staff meeting was held in November 2003.

I was always of the belief that managers manage and workers work – but we seem to be losing our direction, motivation, and initiative, which does not bode well for the Library.

(Tom McGettrick is a computer specialist in ITS.)

The Telework Pilot for members of the AFSCME 2910 bargaining unit began November 18, 2002 and was scheduled to end April 9, 2004. However, because of your union’s efforts, the Pilot has been extended. The final decision to make telework a permanent feature of worklife at the Library of Congress rests with the Library’s Executive Committee.

If the Library does decide to make telework a permanent program, there will be a new application process. It is reasonable to expect that the criteria for selection will be very similar to the criteria for participating in the Pilot. Based on those criteria, some current teleworkers will be able to continue teleworking, but there will also be new teleworkers as well.

The Telework Pilot has been very successful, with both teleworkers and their supervisors reporting increased productivity, less leave usage, and improved work product quality. It has also become clear that new employees were attracted to the Library because it had a telework program. Moreover, some long-time employees have let it be known that they will be able to continue working rather than retire if the Library continues to offer telework. Clearly, the benefits of telework to both staff and the institution are very significant.

Library management repeatedly rhapsodizes on its goal of taking the Library into the 21st century. Telework fits perfectly with that goal. Let us hope that the Executive Committee has the wisdom to make telework a permanent program, and does not leave its employees behind on that journey into the 21st century.

Copies of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) extending the Telework Pilot are available in the Guild Office, LM-G43.

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