“We’re in Washington, D.C., and we’re seeing the kind of stuff that has gone on in Wisconsin, the kind of stuff that’s gone on in Michigan, the kind of stuff that’s gone on in Indiana,” said Paul Shearon, secretary-treasurer of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, the union that is helping the judges in the Office of Administrative Hearings organize.
The reference to the recent union-related measures by Republican governors and legislators in traditionally labor-friendly states might be exaggerated. But the Gray administration’s top labor relations officials initially opposed the judges’ attempts to organize, and although they have since withdrawn from the case, the agency’s chief judge has hired a high-powered private law firm to keep fighting.
The organizers insist that Gray, under D.C. law, can step in and recognize the union. That is a request they have pressed in recent months in meetings with City Administrator Allen Y. Lew, House Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and Gray himself.
But Gray (D) has declined to do so. On Wednesday, lawyers from the Office of the Attorney General filed a legal brief in support of the judges’ right to organize. The administration is leaving it to a city employee labor-relations board to hear the case and rule on the matter.
The city has “literally opposed everything, procedurally and substantively,” until Wednesday’s brief, Shearon said. “We believe the facts are clear.”
Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro declined to comment on the judges’ efforts, citing the pending litigation. As a general matter, he said, “The mayor is in support of collective bargaining.”
The tensions within the Office of Administrative Hearings stretch back more than a year and were publicly aired last June, when 15 judges signed a letter addressed to Mendelson accusing OAH Chief Administrative Law Judge Mary Oates Walker of a “lack of transparency, predictability, and competence.”
The letter, among other things, cited a “chilled work environment that is unduly stressful, demeaning, and counterproductive to overall operations” and “unprofessional, erratic, and at times demeaning” treatment of staff by Walker.
A month later, the judges filed papers seeking to form a union. The judges leading the organizing effort declined to comment, directing questions to the IFPTE organizers.
Walker referred questions on the organizing effort to her agency’s private attorneys, from the Venable law firm, hired in December under the quasi-independent agency’s legal authority. In an interview last June, she characterized the complaints as the result of management changes intended to make the office more productive. “A number of employees are obviously resistant to those changes,” she said.