Labor dispute swirls around D.C. union leader

Lawsuits filed against city

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D.C. labor-relations officials insist they have nothing to do with a perplexing intraunion dispute over who has the authority to lead a 200-member union for youth-corrections officers.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s office says his administration merely wants to ensure the “recognition rights” of the union as an “exclusive representative of the bargaining unit employees.”

But those claims have not shielded the administration from two lawsuits, an ethics complaint, and a request late last week by the Fraternal Order of Police that Mr. Gray remove his labor-relations director from the dispute and reverse key directives at the heart of the matter.

Chief among those directives is a decision, upheld in a summary order by the director of the District’s employee relations board, that has transferred the authority of an elected union president to an employee who has been removed by one union and accused by his current one of being a shill for management.

A hearing on one of the lawsuits is set for Tuesday in D.C. Superior Court. Rulings in either of the actions could shape future labor relations actions by D.C. officials, who in this case are being charged with “conspiring to dominate and interfere with the internal affairs” of the union that represents corrections officers with the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.

The matter first surfaced in July when The Washington Times reported that Takisha Brown, a recently elected president of the corrections officers union, discovered signs dating to her predecessor’s tenure of financial mismanagement and potential conflicts of interest, including the wife of a member of the union’s executive board working as a paralegal for the union’s attorney.

Ms. Brown promptly fired the lawyer and called for a forensic audit, which prompted the member, a program analyst named Cedric Crawley, to orchestrate a coup to unseat her. That prompted Ms. Brown and Mr. Crawley to file complaints against each other, neither of which was resolved.

The situation erupted recently when Natasha Campbell, director of the Office of Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining, decided that because of the dispute, the Gray administration would “no longer recognize Ms. Brown as the chairperson” and ordered that all union correspondence be directed to the executive board.

On Feb. 20, after a request by Ms. Campbell, Executive Director Ondray T. Harris of the Public Employee Relations Board validated Ms. Campbell, ordering city officials to ignore Ms. Brown’s elected status and deal directly with the executive board.

There is no record of Mr. Harris receiving a formal complaint, opening a case file, interviewing witnesses or holding a hearing before he made his ruling.

Two days later, in an email to the Department of Human Resources, Ms. Campbell’s assistant stated that the union’s “official representative is now Cedric Crawley.”

Sources in the Gray administration, who declined to comment for the record because the matter is before the courts, insist that the entire mess is “an internal union squabble.” They vigorously deny being involved, much less taking sides, in the matter.

“To drag us into it is just silly. As innocent bystanders we just want to follow the law,” one staffer said.

Attorneys for Ms. Brown say the law is clear, and that Ms. Campbell has repeatedly violated it. In the two lawsuits pending in Superior Court and a complaint before the Board of Elections and Ethics, Ms. Brown’s attorneys have argued that Mr. Crawley is a management-level employee who never should have been in the union — much less have tried to take over its leadership. They further argue that Ms. Campbell has intentionally miscoded Mr. Crawley’s position so he can remain in the union and that she violated the law when she took the matter to the public employee relations board, which should not have issued a summary order without receiving a formal complaint and opening a case file.

Documents obtained by The Times show that Mr. Crawley is a Grade 12 program analyst, the only employee in the union at that level. They further show that under a previous administration, Mr. Crawley was identified as a nonunion employee who for that reason was removed from the American Federation of Government Employees Local 383.

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