"It turns out that there has been continual union representation at the Library of Congress since 1916 – the longest of any library in America," said Nan Thompson Ernst at last Thursday's noontime talk at the library. Ernst is Chief Steward of AFSCME Local 2910 (The Library Professional Guild) which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Research by Guild members -- including co-presenter David Fernández-Barrial -- in the LOC Manuscript Division uncovered many union history gems, including the founding of Federal Employees Union No. 14632 in 1916; the rise of United Federal Workers of America (UFWA), a CIO union at the Library in the late 1930’s (members of which were in “The Priority Ramblers” an Alan Lomax-produced all-federal employee band which sang original topical labor songs like “Overtime Pay”); the dissolution of the same local during the onset of Cold War paranoia in 1947 (complete with an Employee Loyalty Program that saw the firing of federal employees with left-wing sympathies or who were homosexual); to the turbulent 1960’s and the pioneering work in the early 1970’s of former Metro Washington Council president Jos Williams, who worked at the Library at the time, and who was instrumental in the founding of AFSCME Locals 2910 and 2477 as a result of principled union opposition to the Vietnam War as well as pay equity for African-American employees of the institution. "In addition, Williams was instrumental in bringing collective bargaining to the Library and was involved in negotiating the first contract for the Guild, forever transforming the work life of our institution," notes Fernández-Barrial. The Guild is hosting a number of events this month to mark its anniversary.
- photo (right): 1917 letter from the President of the AFL's Federal Employees Union to the President of FEU Local 14632 in the Library of Congress.