DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A state administrative law judge who was ordered demoted last week in a case that raised questions about the operation of the Iowa Workforce Development agency said Thursday that local union officials failed to protect her rights and should be punished.
Teresa Hillary, a workforce development administrative law judge who decides unemployment benefit cases, said she sent a complaint Wednesday to Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.
“I’m deeply disappointed in the union and some of the union members’ behavior,” Hillary said.
Hillary asked in the complaint that AFSCME union steward Stan McElderry be removed from his position and that the union local receive “appropriate discipline.”
Hillary was at the center of an arbitrator’s decision filed Friday that said IWD Director Teresa Wahlert overstepped her authority by promoting Hillary to a lead judge with extra pay.
The dispute is the latest indication of internal problems at the agency, which oversees benefits for unemployed workers and job training programs.
Wahlert and several other staffer members were called before the Senate Government Oversight Committee this summer to answer allegations of a hostile work environment and complaints that Wahlert asserted political influence over judges.
Some judges said that Wahlert, a political appointee of Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, pushed a pro-employer agenda. After she fired the head judge last year she took over supervision of the judges, which some lawmakers have said is a violation of federal law requiring unemployment claims to be decided impartially without political influence.
Committee Chairwoman Janet Petersen, a Democrat, has said she doubts Wahlert will get through Senate confirmation if Branstad chooses to nominate her to continue as IWD director.
In last week’s case, Wahlert’s promotion of Hillary was directly counter to a settlement reached in a union grievance that had been filed last year by a group of clerical workers. They said Hillary created a hostile work environment by intimidating and harassing staff.
In that matter, the agency’s top administrative law judge settled the grievance by prohibiting Hillary from advancing to lead worker status for at least a year. Soon after the decision, Wahlert laid off that judge, Joe Walsh.
Wahlert then appointed Hillary and a few other administrative law judges as lead workers, prompting the grievance that resulted in Friday’s order that removed Hillary from lead worker status. The move means a cut in pay.
Hillary, a 28-year state employee, said in the complaint she has been a union member for 17 years. She said Walsh never investigated the grievance, which she said included “patently untrue spurious allegations.” She also said she was never told there had been a grievance directed toward her.
She alleges McElderry, as her union steward, should have been her strongest ally, but instead “deliberately colluded with Walsh, his personal friend and management employee, when he signed off on the settlement agreement to punish me.”
McElderry did not immediately respond to a message.
AFSCME Local President Danny Homan said he hasn’t seen Hillary’s complaint and couldn’t comment.
Hillary alleges seven violations of the union contract in the complaint and asked Saunders to investigate.
“I will pursue other legal remedies as necessary if you and the national office are not sufficiently able to resolve my complaints,” she wrote in the complaint.
Wahlert has not responded to messages. IWD spokeswoman Kerry Koonce said there would be no comment because in involves an arbitration case which is confidential.
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