A group of D.C. corrections officers said yesterday that they would rather be represented by the Fraternal Order of Police in their labor relations with the city than by their current union, the American Federation of Government Employees.
The group challenged AFGE's representation with a petition bearing 579 signatures, about 33 percent of the city's corrections personnel. The move was seen as part of an expected attempt by the FOP to win labor representation authority for all city law enforcement agencies.
In December, city police officers selected the FOP as their chief bargaining agent, ousting the International Brotherhood of Police Officers in the process. The AFGE, a part of the AFL-CIO, has represented corrections personnel for more than 25 years, and its officials vowed to fight the FOP challenge "head on."
With more than 1,000 officers at D.C. Jail, Lorton reformatory and other facilities, the corrections department is second in size only to the Washington police department in the city. These officers, and other corrections personnel, pay several hundred thousand dollars annually in dues to the AFGE, which represents more workers in the area than any other single union.
The FOP challenge will be heard by the city's Public Employes Relations Board, which will invite the AFGE to give reasons why the board should not allow corrections personnel to vote on the proposed change in union representation.
Corrections officers seeking the change said the AFGE, which represents thousands of clerical and other white-collar workers, is insensitive to the hazards of prison work and has failed to win them pay and benefits equal to those of police officers.
AFGE officials said they would oppose the challenge by arguing that the FOP, historically a white-oriented social organization before it formed a labor union arm, is inexperienced in bargaining for minority rights. AFGE officers said they also would question whether the FOP is qualified to represent nonuniformed corrections employes and whether the police organization is sensitive to the rights of prisoners.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that the AFGE recently finished contract talks with the city. Corrections workers next week will receive the first benefit of an 8.5 percent pay boost retroactive to November.