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Union Complains CRS Lacks ‘Human Element’

Congressional Research Service union representatives, citing two recent disagreements with Library of Congress officials regarding employee health care matters, claim CRS management no longer takes into account “the human cost” when establishing priorities.

The disputes over the possible firing of one employee for taking too much sick leave and the denial of another staffer’s request for a more flexible work schedule mark the latest chilling of the relationship between the Congressional Research Employees Association and CRS management, which still stand in stark disagreement over a reduction in force that was completed earlier this year and affected 59 employees.

CREA’s growing concern over the leadership priorities established by CRS Director Daniel Mulhollan and other officials has become one of more acrimonious labor/union disagreements within legislative branch agencies in recent years. Dennis Roth, who has served as CREA’s president for almost 20 years, has appeared before House administrators twice in the past year to accuse CRS management of using a “confrontational strategy” toward labor relations while employees are treated as disposable assets.

In an interview last week, Roth said: “This is basically [about] giving a damn about employees. Technically they don’t have to, they can run it as a strictly business organization and the people are just another piece of the machinery that when they break down you get rid of them. … We’re trying to bring some human element into this.”

Mulhollan, however, paints a different picture of his management style.

“Their health and welfare is our highest priority,” he said in a statement Monday. “To support the staff, we take all appropriate steps to ensure that CRS is a vital and dynamic workplace that is responsive to supporting Congress in its deliberations and legislative decision-making. In our organization, all CRS employees are afforded the utmost professional respect and courtesy and CRS complies with all applicable federal laws and regulations.”

But Roth pointed to the case of Louis Golino, a Congressional relations specialist in CRS’ Inquiry section, as one example of how Mulhollan has been unwilling to create a flexible and family-friendly workplace.

Golino currently is facing the possibility of losing his job because of his attendance record in 2006 and 2007.

In 2005, Golino had two major surgeries to remove a rare type of brain tumor, and he also suffers from chronic musculoskeletal problems. In 2006 he had almost 185 hours of unscheduled absences. Since a written warning was issued to him regarding his leave time in September of last year, he’s used about 85 hours of unscheduled leave time.

In documents submitted in response to a management proposal to dismiss him, Golino argued that his leave use “has declined substantially since last fall as my health has improved. … My attendance record is a normal one for someone with serious medical conditions. In addition, I have followed all policies, regulations and restrictions I am under and my doctors have provided exhaustive information about my medical situation.”

Golino stated in the document that rather than being fired after 16 years of working for the CRS, “the most appropriate course of action would be to reassign me to another job where I would have greater flexibility in work schedule.”

Golino said last week that the proposed dismissal “came as such a shock to me because when they identified a problem last fall in terms of the amount of time I had to take off for some serious medical problems, they told me to improve and I did that. Last year was a particularly bad year, and I think things are going better.”

He added that a lawsuit probably would be in the works if Mulhollan were to go forward with his dismissal.

At the same time that Golino’s case is being deliberated, Roth said CREA is seeking to schedule arbitration with CRS management in the case of Joyce Thorpe, an employee who suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome and earlier this year sought permission from Mulhollan to begin her workday before 7 a.m. so she would not have to ride a crowded bus, where she often has to stand up and hang on to hand rails. Her request was denied.

CRS spokeswoman Janine D’Addario said Monday that the agency would not discuss either case “as a matter of professional courtesy and out of respect for the confidentiality of individuals.”

D’Addario did say the CRS complies with the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which guarantees employees up to 12 workweeks of leave per 12 month period for, among other things, an individual’s serious health condition.

She said employees may request approval to work from home when special needs dictate. But “as shared Congressional staff, CRS employees must be available by telephone, e-mail and in person to support the Congress. The director has determined that the hours of service must be aligned to the legislative schedules and permitting employees to work remotely in routine situations would weaken one of CRS’ strengths — accessibility.”

D’Addario added that according to policy, “CRS employees are eligible to select a flexible work schedule that can begin any time from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Exceptions to allow employees to start their workday before 7:30 a.m. are granted on a case-by-case basis based on personal hardship of the employee and CRS’ business requirements.”

“There’s just an unwillingness to deal with medical situations” at the CRS, Roth said last week. “It’s considered a liability rather than something where we could find common ground to solve problems. There’s absolutely no flexibility. … If there’s a management official in a similar situation [as Golino], what would they have done? Usually I would think they would reassign and work more closely.”

Mulhollan responded in his statement that it “is simply sad that CREA has to resort to such a tactic as stating that CRS staff members challenged by illness are treated differently because of their status as bargaining unit employees. Equal treatment under the law is a value within CRS that is taken into account in every decision. To imply otherwise is not only highly distortive of reality, but is more the pity when CREA undertakes these types of tactics when there is no other credible argument in their case.”

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