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Library of Congress Union Scores Win for Smokers

Library of Congress employees have fewer options for smoke breaks around the Madison Building, but the grounds might not be as butt-free as management once envisioned.

Union leaders for one of the largest employers on the Capitol campus notched a win this month, after spending half the year in a contentious workplace dispute about where smokers should be allowed to light up.

Under the terms of an arbitrator’s Dec. 11 ruling, the LOC must continue to allow smoking in the northwest quadrant of the Madison plaza, adjacent to the Cannon House Office Building, and must install benches to accommodate smokers at the back corner of the building, near Second and C streets Southeast.

The smoking policy showdown began this summer and centered on Madison Building, which houses approximately 2,375 employees — compared to the roughly 600 each at the nearby Adams and Jefferson buildings.

Since indoor smoking lounges closed in 2005, policy allowed employees to light up under a large portico across the front of the Madison Building, with a few signs directing smokers away from the main entrance. A narrow patio on the northwest side of the building and the tables on the large plaza were marked as “no smoking” areas.

Changes proposed in June would have banned smoking on the grounds, except for in a small area at the southeast corner of the building.

“Responding to numerous complaints about second-hand smoke near the Madison Building’s Independence Avenue entrance, Library management proposed a plan it felt was in the best health interests of our staff and patrons,” Gayle Osterberg, director of communications for the LOC, said in an email.

Management also assumed the changes would present a better appearance to the public by reducing the amount of cigarette butts and packaging littering the area. The LOC argued that its plan would prevent discoloration of the building’s marble facade, as was evident under the portico, according to documents from the case.

Seeing the issue as one of workers’ rights, leaders of the three unions representing LOC employees — ranging from analysts, attorneys and librarians to technicians, secretaries and clerks who help stock books — sat down at the bargaining table for negotiations about the change.

All sides agreed it was in the best interest of the library staff to discontinue smoking on the portico, but the unions suggested “the one corner for smoking proposed by management at the back of this large facility is inadequate,” Saul Schniderman, president of the LOC Professional Guild, AFSCME 2910, said in a statement provided to CQ Roll Call.

“Despite the challenges and limited options presented by the architectural footprint of the Madison Building, our guiding principle in these negotiations was to provide some seating and minimal shelter for smokers in places which at the same time protected the overwhelming non-smoking majority of employees from second-hand smoke,” Schniderman said, noting that the union conferred with Denise Bowles, an industrial hygienist who works with AFSCME on the national level.

The union proposed allowing smoking in the northwest alcove, an idea management rejected. Library management also opposed the idea of installing benches, not wanting to spend money to facilitate bad health habits.

Both parties laid out their differences during a Nov. 15 arbitration meeting with arbitrator Mary Jacksteit, the chairwoman of the Federal Service Impasses Panel that is responsible for resolving disputes between federal agencies and unions representing federal employees.

Jacksteit ruled in favor of the union’s proposals, determining that the LOC proposals would ultimately push smokers onto public sidewalks, increasing second-hand smoke exposure.

“Smoking will also be much more visible, and the lack of cigarette and trash receptacles on the sidewalks will lead to littering there,” she wrote, in effect forcing employees to be “public nuisances.”

In response, Osterberg said library management was disappointed it could not implement the full plan and, “as a result won’t be able to provide the full public health protections we’d hoped.”

Schniderman told CQ Roll Call that the guild applauds the decision as a “more common sense and balanced approach.”

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