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Ex-official: D.C. labor union bias at root of prejudice claims
The D.C. board that adjudicates public employee disputes has been accused of discriminating against whites and conservatives, but city officials also have questioned whether claims of prejudice are rooted in a labor union bias on the part of the board's members, according to the board's former executive director.
Documents obtained by The Washington Times also show that the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) offered Ondray T. Harris $30,000 to refrain from airing such views in his resignation letter, first obtained by The Times, which has sparked conservative outrage.
And while the board's general counsel, Keturah D. Harley, says Mr. Harris failed to formally notify the board of his concerns when they arose, documents and Mr. Harris' accounts of key conversations suggest city labor officials and legislators alike have been questioning PERB's collective judgment for some time.
In response to Mr. Harris' allegations, a spokesman for Mayor Vincent C. Gray said, "An investigation [by an independent body] is underway and we look forward to receiving results and taking any appropriate action."
Mr. Harris resigned May 24 after being asked by the board to explain why he resides in Virginia and not the District, as D.C. law requires. In his resignation letter, Mr. Harris said his residency was known to the board and he was resigning because board members Ann Hoffman and Don Wasserman "rebuked" him for hiring an attorney who had worked for conservative organizations and that he was urged not to hire more white males.
In a statement last week, Ms. Harley wrote that Mr. Harris' residency status only came on PERB's radar as of April 30, and that prior to his resignation, he had failed to file a formal complaint or officially notify the board of his discrimination concerns, which arose during a Nov. 8 executive session of the board.
After the Nov. 8 meeting, Mr. Harris asked Ms. Harley for a legal memo regarding the alleged statements by Ms. Hoffman and Mr. Wasserman. The memo, delivered on Dec. 19, states the alleged statements violate both the law and the U.S. Constitution; according to Mr. Harris, the request for such a memo triggered a duty on Ms. Harley's part to inform PERB of the matter.
Mr. Harris said he also met with board chairwoman Wynter Allen on Jan. 8 and told her he thought the board was exposing the city to liabilities.
In an April conference call with Ms. Harley, Office of Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining Director Natasha Campbell asked Mr. Harris for a review of the board members, prompting him to voice concerns of discrimination and a union bias on the part of the board.
In addition, Mr. Harris said the Gray administration has frequently asked him why the city tends to lose more cases before PERB than it wins.
The board, which resolves labor-management disputes between D.C. agencies and unionized city employees, consists of one labor seat, one management seat, two members of the public and the chairperson, who votes in the event of a tie.
Kristopher Baumann, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police, said PERB is not biased, but rather, the city defends bad behavior, poor decisions, and incompetence.
As for Mr. Harris' residency, notes from a May 30, 2012, board meeting show he advised the members that a claimant was challenging his fitness to rule on a matter because of his Virginia residency, among other factors.
Mr. Harris insists the board is using residency to retaliate against him for airing concerns of bias and discrimination.
In response to PERB's proposed boilerplate settlement language, Mr. Harris asked that three subordinates be protected from adverse action, board members be compelled to attend discrimination training classes, and that he receive a year's severance.
Ms. Harley countered with the $30,000 offer, making clear that Mr. Harris' resignation letter would be treated as a rejection of the settlement offer.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
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