GOP Leaders Plan Suit to Stall Part of `Contract': Capitol Police Seek Right to Unionize

By Blomquist, Brian | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 15, 1996 | Go to article overview

GOP Leaders Plan Suit to Stall Part of `Contract': Capitol Police Seek Right to Unionize


Blomquist, Brian, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The Republican-led Congress is seeking court relief from a law it passed with great fanfare nearly two years ago that subjects Capitol Hill to the same health, safety and labor laws all other Americans must follow.

Republican leaders have authorized a legal challenge to unionization of the U.S. Capitol Police, which had been forbidden before Congress applied existing labor laws to itself.

The legal brief filed this week by three lawyers for the Congress, however, could have broader implications for the tortuous process of bringing the House and Senate into compliance with dozens of health, safety and labor laws.

It is not clear if Republican leaders are trying to shirk compliance with the laws, but their legal brief could set a precedent for challenging the enforcement of the 11 civil rights and labor laws included in the Congressional Accountability Act.

The congressional lawyers specifically are fighting the union-forming procedure sought by Capitol Police officers in a lawsuit against the congressional Office of Compliance, which referees union elections on Capitol Hill.

The lawyers point out that Congress has "sovereign immunity," making it "immune" from lawsuits it doesn't permit - an argument that other lawyers involved in the case find dubious, and one that runs contrary to Congress' claim that it now falls under the same laws that apply to businesses and citizens.

The congressional lawyers would not comment yesterday, but they said in court last week that, despite their "sovereign immunity" claim, they are not trying to dismantle the Congressional Accountability Act, which the Republican-led Congress approved last year.

Aides to House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican, did not respond to repeated calls for comment on the lawsuit. An aide to Senate Majority Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, also did not respond.

The Congressional Accountability act, which on Jan. 23, 1995, became the first item in the House GOP's "Contract With America" to be signed into law, applies labor laws such as the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act to Congress for the first time.

The act's purpose is "to make laws applicable to the legislative branch of the federal government," according to its text.

By arguing "sovereign immunity" against the unionizing of Capitol Police officers, the lawyers appointed by the congressional leadership maintain that their bosses are not like any other employer.

"There is some irony in the fact that they passed this law and the first time there is ever a hearing to give anybody rights under it, they go to court to try to get it enjoined and raise a lot of what I think are silly arguments," said Michael Leibig, counsel for the International Union of Police Associations of the AFL-CIO, which is competing with the Fraternal Order of Police and the Teamsters to represent the Capitol Police.

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GOP Leaders Plan Suit to Stall Part of `Contract': Capitol Police Seek Right to Unionize
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