Gettysburg Battlefield Guides to leave new Visitor Center behind

The following appeared in the Dec. 28 Gettysburg Times:

A dispute over payment and scheduling procedures at the Gettysburg Battlefield has resulted in the 125-member Licensed Battlefield Guide Association opting to move its base from the park visitor center to a downtown facility.

“The Executive Council of the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides voted unanimously Dec. 14 to move our center of operations from the visitor center to an in-town facility,” group President Rick Hohmann said. “The membership must approve the move at our January meeting. We will (still) do tours from the new visitor center, but it’s clearly time for us to go out on our own.”

The Times has learned that the group might move into a facility along South Street in Gettysburg, adjacent to the historic Farnsworth House on Baltimore Street, owned by Loring Schultz. When reached via phone this week, Schultz acknowledged that discussions were taking place, but said nothing had been finalized. “In our view, this whole issue is about control,” Hohmann said. “The park wants to control how much and when we are paid, and when we work. We are independent contractors — not employees.” Gettysburg National Military Park spokeswoman Katie Lawhon said the group’s move might be auxiliary in nature. “We’ve heard that they might move an office there,” Lawhon said regarding the proposal.

The guides maintain that the opposite is true. “It is obvious that the time has come for the guides to go out on their own and operate from their own headquarters,” Hohmann wrote in the December edition of the Battlefield Dispatch, adding that the guides plan to move their office, library and “essentially” the guide room to the building. “Guides would still do tours from the visitor center, but our center of operations would be elsewhere.”

Most of the guided tours on the Gettysburg Battlefield, according to park officials, begin at the Taneytown Road visitor center. “Even if the guides would decide to move, I think the majority of the tours would still leave from our building,” Lawhon said. “We’re still the main starting point for park visitors.”

The group’s decision comes months after tedious — and sometimes stagnant — negotiations with Gettysburg National Military Park administrators and Gettysburg Foundation leaders regarding new unilateral rules that are being imposed upon the guides, primarily involving payment and scheduling protocol. Hohmann wrote an Oct. 23 letter to GNMP Superintendent John A. Latschar, expressing the concerns of the guide group, but Hohmann said Latschar hasn’t responded to the letter. “There is a group of guides that was appointed by Rick Hohmann that we’ve been working with for 18 months,” Lawhon said. “They were appointed by the president of the association to work with the National Park Service and the Gettysburg Foundation to set up this new system, and those particular guides were satisfied with how this was working.”

Guides will be paid twice a month — instead of the per tour payments they’ve grown accustom to receiving — by the Gettysburg Foundation, the non-profit operation that plans to manage the new $105 million Baltimore Pike visitor center once it opens in April. People taking tours of Gettysburg National Military Park have paid guides directly since 1915. “Over the last 10 years, we’ve always backed down. The park knew we wouldn’t fight,” said Hohmann. “We’ve been manipulated… but we’re not backing down now.”

The park also wants tours scheduled in advance, while the guides prefer to choose when they work. “Right now, there is a problem. Visitors can’t schedule tours ahead of time,” Lawhon said. “If you want a guide, whether you’re an individual or family, the only way to get one is to get here at the visitor center at 8 a.m. and get in line. Sometimes, you’re out of luck. That’s the problem we’re trying to address. We don’t want to leave it up to chance.”

Advanced reservations and advanced payments, park leaders maintain, are industry standards. “We see no reason for the (Gettysburg) Foundation to collect our money in advance and hold it for several weeks after a tour has been given,” said Hohmann. Battlefield officials insist that the scheduling format will be accommodating to every individual guide.

“It will be flexible enough to match their personal schedules, and flexible enough to match visitors’ schedules,” Lawhon said. “When visitors want to go on a tour, they can pick the times. We’ll match it with the schedules that are provided by the guides.” The Guide Association, which makes up 80 percent of the licensed guides in Gettysburg, isn’t convinced.

“The visitor choosing the time of the tour is like movie-goers calling the theater and telling the manager what time they want to see the latest Harry Potter film, as opposed to the theater determining show times,” Hohmann said. “Their plan will result in fewer tours, fewer visitors served, less income for guides, (and) less productivity.”

For years, guides have operated out of the GNMP Visitor Center, located along Taneytown Road. But recent disagreements between the guides and park administration resulted in the group branching out to other locations, such as the Gateway Gettysburg complex at the Route 15/30 interchange, because those venues offer guides an ability to set their own schedules.

“In the past, the guides said they wanted to run tours out of other places, and the National Park Service doesn’t have a problem with that,” Lawhon said. “They have a right to start their tours anywhere they want to start them. In the old days, they used to start them right on Lincoln Square. They have a lot of flexibility.”

When the new $105 million visitor center and museum opens this spring along the Baltimore Pike, guides still plan to staff the facility, but not as their headquarters. “To this date, we do not have one word in writing from the park, or the Gettysburg Foundation, about our involvement in the new visitor center. We’ve been repeatedly asking them to put something in writing, but they simply refuse to do it,” Hohmann said. “At this stage in the game, we do not feel that we can trust them on the basis of their word.”

Park leaders say they already have a contract with the guides: their individual licenses, which cost $360 annually to renew. “We don’t have an agreement with the guide group, because we work with each individual person who is a guide with us,” Lawhon said. “There are 150 licensed guides. The National Park Service licenses an individual, not a group.”

In a recent secret mail ballot of the Licensed Battlefield Guide Association — non members were also invited to participate, and several did — the “clear majority,” Hohmann said, rejected the park’s payment and scheduling proposal. Subsequently, the group launched a search process for alternative operating venues.

I find all of this highly interesting.  Like the Guides, I am also an independent contractor (IP).  I “work for” a primary insurance company (in addition to being a full-lines broker) but I am not an employee of the company.  Several times over the years, this company has attempted to treat us agents like employees – mandating office hours, controlling our schedules, licensing, etc – but each time they’ve met with defeat according to laws governing IPs.  In essence, this company, like the Gettysburg Park, has been trying to treat the Guides like employees but without taking on the expense as such.  If the Guides were employees, they would have to pay payroll taxes, benefits, insurance expenses, liability, pension, etc.  Currently, Guides foot the bill for everything.  IP laws are meant to protect the workers – to not be treated like employees without getting commesurate benefits.  Companies such as my insurance company love to try, every few years, to control its agents as much as possible but not foot the bill for it.  You can’t have it both ways, and the law says so.

Earlier this year, in fact, I got into a discussion concerning this issue with the Guides on a popular Gettysburg email forum.  This issue of the Guides possibly going out on their own was being floated then, when mention of the Park trying to control the Guides more at the new Visitor Center was made.  As an IP myself, I got into an exchange with an attorney, which became a bit heated toward the end.  As an IP with experience, I made observations exactly like what the Gettysburg Guides are facing today, and predicted that this split was going to happen.  The attorney, in effect, told me I was nuts, and that there wasn’t any issue with the IP laws in this case.

Well, I think she’s been proven wrong, and my suspicions panned out.

I would also say, as I did then, that if what the Park was attempting to do (controlling payroll, hours, etc. without the resulting expense of employer-employee relationship) was brought before the Labor Department, the Park would lose.  Just like every other entity that has tried this in the past – try to get the benefits of having employees without having to shoulder the expenses of having them.  Like in my situation, if you want to control my income and my work day, then you pay my secretary, office expenses, insurance, social security, pension, and everything else.  The reason I have to pay for everything now is because I get to set my own schedule.  I’m “independent” just as the law defines it.  An employer-employee relationship is a whole ‘nother ballgame, and the Park is finding that out now in regards to its Guide program.

Of course, the ideal situation would be for the two sides to work something out, something that can keep the Guides in the new Visitor Center.  But as long as the Park is attempting to treat them like employees without having to pay for it, then I say kudos to the Guides – and get outta there.  The sooner the better.

And I also feel a bit of vindication in regards to the debate I had with that attorney over this issue.  I hope she’s reading this and seeing what’s happening at the Park.  And…

Told ya so. 🙂

Published in: on December 29, 2007 at 9:22 pm  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Guides are neither employees nor independent contractors. There is no contract term. They are licensees.

  2. Ralf,

    I’m aware of that – Employment Law has a thin line between an IC and a Licensee. In fact, I happen to be recognized as both under the law. There are many similarities in how ICs and Licensees can/cannot be treated – as has come up in many legal cases.

    You cannot treat a licensee as an employee any more than you can an IC, and not be in violation.

    Get it?

    J.D.

  3. J.D.,

    I don’t understand Hohmann’s logic that “The visitor choosing the time of the tour is like movie-goers calling the theater and telling the manager what time they want to see the latest Harry Potter film, as opposed to the theater determining show times.”

    It appears that unless the visitor shows up at or before opening time, he/she may be SOL with regards to obtaining a guided tour. While the movie theater sells tix on a first come-first serve basis, at leats the public is offered multiple, fixed show times to choose from.

    To be honest, though I’ve visited Gettyburg many times, I’ve never had a professionally guided tour but would love to. In fact, it’s on my “bucket list.” That said, I was amazed to learn that the public cannot book a guided tour in advance. I have to come down on the side of mgmt on that specific issue.

    Paul

  4. Paul,

    You definitely have a point, and this is one of the interesting facets of this whole question. It is possible, I believe, for something to be worked out regarding scheduling in advance, etc. One can easily understand the GNMP’s desire to do so.

    What gets sticky, though, is when the GNMP wants to schedule particular tours, or guides, etc., withhold payment, etc… in other words, get closer to them treating the Guides like employees. That’s where the law comes in. Some type of contract could be worked out where the status of the Guides remains ICs or licensees, but the law mandates that the Guides maintain their ability to set their own schedule.

    So that’s the difficulty in bringing the two sides together. If they both truly wanted to try to work out an arrangement that still complied with the law, it might actually take the services of an employment practices/labor law attorney.

    As I said, I certainly do hope something gets worked out. The ideal would be for the Guides to keep their current status and remain HQ’d at the Visitor Center. But if the GNMP wants to treat the Guides like employees (or I should say, do things that resemble the treatment of employees) then the GNMP is gonna have to make them employees. One way or the other – or something in between that complies with the law.

    I think it’s the latter that both sides would try to work toward.

    J.D.

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