In a striking setback for the leadership of the largest federal union, a U.S. district court has reversed the ouster of the labor organization’s second highest official, who is a political opponent of the No. 1 boss.
The removal of Eugene Hudson Jr., once and apparently again the elected secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Government Employees, was overturned Thursday by U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg.
He ordered AFGE to “reinstate Hudson to his position as National Secretary-Treasurer effective immediately.” But it’s not clear when immediately is. AFGE is expected to appeal. AFGE communications director Ashley De Smeth would not comment on ongoing cases.
Boasberg’s opinion is the latest episode in a soap opera of internecine intrigue that – just this year — includes the dismissal of local elected officials, one leader’s lifetime ban on holding office and four-year membership suspension, and an arbitration decision overturning union action against a former national officer. National union leaders see the moves as cleaning up the organization, but the individuals affected cry foul.
Hudson’s ordered reinstatement could be temporary, pending another hearing. Nonetheless, the Boasberg decision is a particularly sharp rebuke to union leadership, because it so thoroughly dismantled the union’s defense. Hudson is running for union president, a position held by J. David Cox Sr. It is that political opposition that Hudson contends is the real cause of his removal.
“I was removed for political reasons,” Hudson said, a notion union leaders hotly reject.
He was ejected by AFGE’s National Executive Council, which accepted the recommendations of a Committee of Investigation chaired by National Vice President Gerald Swanke. The committee charged Hudson with directing a staffer to send an email to union members that was critical of President Trump one week after his electoral college victory. Cox’s letter to Hudson outlining the charges against him said the email “violated the Hatch Act.” Hudson, in fact, cannot violate the Hatch Act because it covers federal employees, which he is not.
A central point in the court’s decision was Swanke’s chairmanship of the three-member investigation committee. The judge, according to the court’s document, accepted Hudson’s argument that the committee included a member, Swanke, “whose bias infected the entirety of the proceeding.” Swanke had called Hudson a “master grifter” and previously filed charges against him, which an earlier panel rejected as baseless. Boasberg said the earlier panel “noted the ‘historical animosity between’ the local councils (for which Swanke is the NVP) and Hudson.”
In an telephone interview, AFGE General Counsel David Borer countered with “we don’t believe the proceedings were bias. We believe an evidentiary hearing on the bias issue would prove otherwise.”
Boasberg’s decision, however, said “the Court also finds it telling that AFGE did not rebut any” of Hudson’s claims regarding Swanke’s bias. “Based on the undisputed evidence here, a reasonable jury would likely find that Swanke was biased against Hudson, precluding him from receiving a full and fair hearing.”
Added Boasberg: “When one-third of a deliberating body is potentially biased, the judgment of the entire tribunal must be met with skepticism.”
In response to questions about Hudson’s case, De Smeth provided a September decision by the judge dismissing a Hudson lawsuit that said AFGE improperly removed his literature from materials distributed to participants at a February union conference. That decision said nothing, however, about Hudson’s removal as secretary-treasurer.
Boasberg found in favor of Hudson on all counts this month when the court ordered him returned to office “at least until a full and fair hearing on his removal can take place.”
Hudson’s story is not AFGE’s only drama:
— Cox placed the union’s Labor Department Local 12 in trusteeship and dismissed its elected leaders last month. Alex Bastani, the Local’s booted president, ran against Cox in 2012. Cox said the Local’s leaders did not use “proper financial controls” and follow a vote of the membership. The ejected leaders are challenging their removal.
— An arbitrator appointed by Cox ruled in October that former secretary-treasurer Jim Davis was not guilty of AFGE charges alleging financial improprieties when he was a Local union official at Warner Robbins Air Force Base in Georgia.
— Following an arbitrator’s recommendation, Cox banned Eddie Eitches from holding AFGE office for life and union membership for four years. Eitches, the former president of the AFGE council then covering 40 Department of Housing and Urban Development locals, rejects the charges, which include colluding with management. Eitches, who was vice president of Local 476 at the time of the arbitrator’s report in July, said a union National Executive Council hearing on his case is scheduled for this week.
— Former officers of Local 2741, which represents some District government employees, are fighting a union decision stripping them of their positions.
De Smeth would not comment on any of these cases. She also would not say if Hudson will be subjected to another union hearing, a decision the judge left to the labor organization. She also did not say what would happen with Joseph P. Flynn, who was appointed secretary-treasurer after Hudson was dumped.
While the judge cited evidence of Swanke’s bias against Hudson, Hudson also argued AFGE retaliated against him for exercising his free-speech rights, suppressed his dissent with disciplinary measures and violated the union’s constitution in its attack on him.
“This is a case of eliminating a political opposition,” said Hudson lawyer Jonathan G. Axelrod, “as quickly as you can.”