USDA judge wants exit from union, alleges labor law violations in federal lawsuit

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An Indianapolis-based administrative law judge doesn’t want to be in his union and has filed a federal lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against the Federal Labor Relations Authority.

The case — James Holden v. Federal Labor Relations Authority and Susan Tsui Grundmann, in her official capacity as Chairman of the Federal Labor Relations Authority, 1:23-cv-3596 — was filed Dec. 4.

According to his federal lawsuit, Holden, an ALJ with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Hearings and Appeals, seeks to vindicate his right not to be included in a mixed bargaining unit that does not represent his interests without the Federal Labor Relations Authority first holding a proper election that complies with the law.

It alleges that Holden is a professional employee who has been placed in a bargaining unit with nonprofessional employees.

“On information and belief, FLRA failed to hold a proper election to determine whether a majority of the affected professionals wanted to be included in this unit in violation of the (Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute,” the complaint alleges. “Holden’s bargaining unit does not represent his interests because it includes nonprofessional employees whose interests diverge from the professional employees.”

The lawsuit further alleges that Holden objects to being included in the bargaining unit, that the unit lacks a clear and identifiable community of interest, and that it does not promote effective dealings with or efficient operations of the OHA.

Holden claims the FLRA destroyed or failed to maintain appropriate records related to the 1998 election that produced the combined bargaining unit to which Holden is subjected, and that the authority’s conduct violated the Federal Records Act.

His lawsuit also alleges the FLRA violated the Administrative Procedure Act, the Federal Records Act, and his rights to free association and choice under the First Amendment.

Holden seeks declaratory relief and the award of costs and counsel fees pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2412.  He is also asking the district court to require the FLRA to initiate an enforcement action with the Attorney General’s Office to recover the missing employee election records.

Additionally, the lawsuit is seeking:

  • To enjoin the defendants from forcing Holden to be included in a mixed bargaining unit without a majority vote of only the affected professionals.
  • To have the court declare that the defendants’ actions in forcing Holden to be included in a mixed bargaining unit without a majority vote of the affected professionals violates the First Amendment.
  • To hold unlawful and set aside FLRA’s election, mixed unit certification and all ensuing orders pursuant to 5 U.S.C. §§ 702 and 706, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201–02, and ultra vires review.
  • To enjoin the defendants from relying on the election for any purpose and compel the agency action to rescind the mixed unit certification and disallow collective bargaining as to the professionals in OHA by Council 20 unless and until FLRA holds an election that is compliant with 5 U.S.C. § 7112(b)(5) and a majority of the professionals in OHA vote for inclusion in a mixed unit.
  • To order the defendants to amend FLRA’s records management program to provide for preservation of the records and other FLRA case files evidencing employee elections under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute.

Holden is being represented by Pennsylvania-based The Fairness Center, which describes itself on its website as a nonprofit, public interest law firm that provides free legal services to those hurt by public sector union officials.

Dave Dorey, the center’s senior litigation counsel, issued a statement:

“Judge Holden believes the union that represents him was installed unlawfully. He alleges that the Federal Labor Relations Authority failed to enforce a federal statute that would have ensured a proper election to confirm whether professional employees wanted to be included in a unit with nonprofessional employees. He also alleges that the FLRA failed to maintain key election records.”

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