The Biden administration delivered a death sentence Thursday to the labor organization that represents thousands of employees at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The Federal Labor Relations Authority’s decision erases the National ICE Council and leaves its 7,600 members, mostly deportation officers, without a collective bargaining agreement or union representation, members said.
The move also dents a prominent critic of both the administration and the American Federation of Government Employees, the umbrella union that the ICE Council has been part of.
AFGE moved to “disclaim” the ICE employees this summer after the council filed a complaint claiming gross mismanagement and hostile intentions at AFGE. AFGE President Everett Kelley said the ICE Council wasn’t being a good partner in the labor movement.
FLRA Regional Director Jessica S. Bartlett agreed to AFGE’s request in a decision Thursday, saying that ICE also sided with AFGE in its battle to ax the council.
“Based on AFGE’s disclaimer of interest, I find that it is appropriate to revoke the certification for the unit of non-professional employees,” Ms. Bartlett wrote in her decision.
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Chris Crane, president of the council, said the government colluded with AFGE to silence the organization and its members.
“There is no doubt that ICE and DHS leadership worked in unison with corrupt union bosses to make this happen,” he said. “DHS and AFGE leadership both wanted desperately to silence ICE Council whistleblowers. Without a union, it’s doubtful those whistleblowers will have jobs much longer.”
He also called the FLRA’s decision “the largest single act of whistleblower retaliation in United States history” by depriving union members of their representation.
“We did what we were supposed to do. We reported to the Department of Labor that union bosses at AFGE were allegedly spending dues money on prostitutes and strippers, sexually assaulting their own employees, engaging in payoffs and coverups, and other unlawful and egregious acts. It was supposed to be investigated. We were supposed to be protected,” he said.
He added: “Federal employees must be alerted immediately that they have no protection from corrupt unions when reporting allegations to the Department of Labor. This can’t happen again.”
Neither AFGE nor ICE responded to requests for comment Thursday.
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When it filed to oust the ICE employees’ union last month, AFGE blamed the employees for the bad blood and characterized the disclaimer as acceding to the council’s wishes.
“It is clear that the AFGE Council 118 remains steadfast in their desire to no longer be a part of AFGE or the broader labor movement,” Mr. Kelley said. “As a result, we have made the difficult decision to disclaim interest in this unit. While we had hoped to avoid this outcome, today’s action begins the process of granting Council 118’s request.”
But the council had sought independence. Instead, AFGE’s disclaimer abolishes the council and leaves its members back at the starting point.
They must now go through a new organization drive and renegotiate a collective bargaining agreement.
The council has long been critical of the direction of activities at ICE, including playing a key role in sinking nominees to lead the agency in both the Trump and Biden administrations.
ICE officers also have battled current Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over his attempts to refashion the agency and its mission. Just before the end of the Trump administration, the ICE Council signed a controversial agreement with the Department of Homeland Security giving the union chapter a say in policy changes that the new Biden team wanted to make. The new administration “disapproved” of the agreement.
And the ICE Council has battled AFGE, arguing that the 700,000-member union doesn’t deliver good service to its members, while taking stances that are hostile to the members. That includes backing politicians who have called for abolishing ICE, which could effectively end the members’ jobs.
Beyond those service complaints, the ICE Council also has claimed serious management issues at AFGE, including in a complaint filed with the Labor Department asking for an investigation.
The complaint, which was first reported by The Washington Times in June, cited allegations that AFGE leaders used union money to hush up claims of racial discrimination and sexual harassment, and used union dues to pay for “strip clubs” and “pursuing prostitutes.”
In filing their complaint, ICE Council officials had sought whistleblower protections, fearing retaliation. Weeks later, AFGE filed its notice of disclaimer, asking that the council be dissolved.
Rep. Michael Cloud, Texas Republican, said that appeared to be just the sort of retaliation the council had been worried about.
He sent a letter late last month to the Labor Department asking it to investigate AFGE.
Mr. Cloud also asked AFGE to defend itself against the council’s allegations of mismanagement.
The FLRA didn’t give the ICE council a say in its fate. The authority said the two parties involved were AFGE and the Homeland Security Department — specifically ICE.
Mr. Crane said the agency’s decision allowed AFGE to get away with retaliation.
“The FLRA absolutely knew this was whistleblower retaliation, but purposely prohibited the evidence from being introduced. They need to be investigated immediately. This investigation is a complete sham,” he said.
The FLRA did not respond to a request for comment on the process.