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LOC Police File Two Complaints

The Library of Congress police union has filed both unfair labor practice and discrimination complaints against the LOC, claiming that the force’s upcoming merger with the Capitol Police is illegal and unjust.

The union’s complaints come almost five months after President Bush signed a bill that outlined the terms of the merger and set into motion the steps to unite the two forces by Sept. 30, 2009. The bill was the culmination of four years of proposals and dozens of meetings — all in an effort to centralize the security of Capitol Hill.

But throughout those talks, the Library’s police union has argued the bill’s terms, specifically those that will place older Library officers in civilian — rather than officer — roles.

About 75 percent of the force is older than 40, and all were hired with the expectation that they would never have to retire because of their age. But the merger will force them to step down from police duty at 57, either by retiring or switching over to a civilian position within the department.

“These officers deserve not to be pushed out of a job in this manner,” said Mike Hutchins, the union’s president. “They’ve earned the right to work. They are hardworking, able-bodied. Our work speaks for itself.”

The unfair labor practice and discrimination complaints are the first legal steps the union has taken since talks on the merger began. The filings threaten to slow a process meant to make Capitol Hill safer and security more consistent.

In the unfair labor practice complaint, filed within the Federal Labor Relations Authority on Wednesday, the union claims that the Library violated the collective bargaining agreement by not negotiating with the union before recommending the merger.

The agreement requires the Library to negotiate with the union on anything that significantly affects the officers’ working conditions, said J. Michael Hannon, the union’s attorney. And the Library did have a part in the merger proposal — officials worked with the Capitol Police to hammer out a recommendation for Congress.

“There’s a presumption in federal labor law that two heads are better than one,” Hannon said, “and the Library of Congress police believe that the Library of Congress and the U.S. Capitol Police don’t think that their heads function well enough to be part of the process.”

But Library officials say that since the merger was an act of Congress — not the Library — those rules don’t apply. As soon as the merger is complete, they say, the Library officers will no longer be employed by the Library.

“When the employees are transferred to the Capitol Police, the Library will cease to have any control over their conditions of employment,” said Charles Carron, director of the LOC Office of Workforce Management, in a letter to Hutchins. “Please understand that I am sympathetic to the impact the merger may have on the employees you represent, but neither I, nor Library management, has any authority to determine conditions of employment at the Capitol Police.”

The Library’s police force is unique among federal law enforcement agencies, with a few dozen officers who focus on guarding the millions of priceless items in the Library’s collection. Most officers come from other police forces, and most are black (87 percent by the union’s count). Only 11 of the 93 officers are white, Hutchins said.

This makeup is the focus of the union’s discrimination complaint, which the union planned to file within the Library on Friday.

It charges the agency with racial and age discrimination, citing the fact that many Library police officers will be switched to civilian jobs after the merger. That switch will mean that those officers won’t be able to retire as federal law enforcement officers, losing such benefits as carrying a firearm after leaving the force, according to the discrimination complaint.

“At the end [of the merger discussions], we were saying ‘Hey, wait a minute, why is it that we have to lose our jobs?’” Hutchins said. “The bottom line was we were too old.”

While the union was unhappy with certain aspects of the merger legislation throughout the bill’s progress, the two complaints are somewhat unexpected. Back in December, after the House passed the bill, Hutchins sent a congratulatory e-mail to House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.), who sponsored the bill and aggressively pushed the merger forward.

“Although we all may not understand the reasons why everything was done in the manner undertaken, we realize that someone had to take the stance, and have this undertaking of great magnitude, move forward,” Hutchins wrote. “Congressman Robert Brady did that, and for this we salute him, and wish him God’s Speed.”

But soon after, Hutchins saw a recent bill that allowed officers in the Customs and Border Protection agency to keep their retirement after switching the force to law enforcement officer status.

Now Hutchins said he feels like the Library officers were “wronged by the entire process,” and hopes to convince Congress to waive the retirement age requirement for LOC officers or negate the merger bill entirely. One option, he said, is to do essentially nothing, allowing the Library’s police force to slowly disappear through retirements.

The union is meeting with staffers from the House Administration Committee on Tuesday to discuss the union’s objections, Hutchins said.

Capitol Police Labor Committee Chairman Matt Tighe said he sympathizes with the Library officers’ plight. But they will be joining the Capitol Police force, he said, and that means they should have to follow the age requirements.

“We just feel that the Capitol Police needs a young, vital work force,” he said. “They have to meet the standard.”

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