D.C. Administrative Law Judges Unionize with IFPTE

WASHINGTON–After a 2-year struggle, administrative law judges employed by the D.C. government voted 19-5 to unionize with the Professional and Technical Engineers.

Their campaign had to overcome opposition by a since-disgraced former chief judge, Mary Walker, to bar unionization on the grounds that joining the union would present a conflict of interest and that the ALJs are supervisors.

Documents related to the ALJs’ unionization campaign also show support from current Mayor Vincent Gray (D).  He filed a friend-of-the-court brief before the D.C. labor board official who had heard – and rejected – Walker’s challenge to the organizing drive.  Gray also later fired Walker.  She pled guilty to four of 20 ethics charges, and paid a $20,000 fine.

The vote means the union will represent the 28 ALJs in bargaining over workplace provisions and in handling grievances.  D.C. civil service scales govern the ALJs’ pay.  One of the 28, Wanda Tucker, is acting chief judge in Walker’s place.  Tucker supported the IFPTE.

“This has been a long time in coming,” said Jesse Goode, a pro-union ALJ.  “We wanted a union because we wanted a voice in making improvements to our courts.  We specifically wanted to be members of the Professional and Technical Engineers because IFPTE represents nearly 2,000 federal administrative law judges.  Sometimes the wheels of justice turn slowly even for judges, but today democracy prevailed and the union was voted in.”

The judges originally filed for the election in July 2012, but Walker hired an anti-union law firm to block the vote.  She spent some $500,000 on the effort, diverting federal Medicaid reimbursements to the city to fund the union-busting.  Holding bosses accountable for actions like that is another reason to unionize, IFPTE Secretary-Treasurer Paul Shearon said.