Long-term implications of AFGE’s ‘difficult decision’ to disclaim ICE officers’ union chapter

AFGE has begun the process to separate its union chapter for ICE officers, essentially dissolving the council's collective bargaining agreement.

Approximately 4,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) employees will soon separate from their parent union.

The American Federation of Government Employees has started the process of disclaiming interest in Chapter 118, the bargaining unit for ICE officers at the Department of Homeland Security. AFGE said on July 12 it has filed paperwork with the Federal Labor Relations Authority to begin the undertaking.

The union chapter, called the National ICE Council, previously requested to legally separate itself from both AFGE and the national union’s parent organization, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

An AFGE official told Federal News Network the council has advocated for the separation for a long time. Most recently, the National ICE Council proposed the separation during AFGE’s convention during the week of June 20.

AFGE’s announcement came after the national union and chapter representatives were unable to resolve ongoing issues during discussions about the future of union representation for the chapter. The national union will start the separation process with FLRA to disclaim the bargaining unit, after its requests for the chapter to remain with AFGE did not pan out.

AFGE National President Everett Kelley called the national union’s choice to begin the separation process a “difficult decision.”

“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,” he said in a statement on July 12. “While we had hoped to avoid this outcome, today’s action begins the process of granting Council 118’s request.”

The long-term implications of the process, though, are still up in the air. Bob Tobias, a professor in the Key Executive Leadership Program at American University, told Federal News Network this is the first time he has ever seen this type of request.

“It’s hard to know what it will mean because it’s never happened before,” he said.

The move is permitted under the Federal Labor Relations Act, which lets unions choose to give up a unit of workers that they previously represented by filing a disclaimer of interest in the bargaining unit, AFGE explained.  Any labor organization with exclusive recognition of a unit of employees can disclaim representational interest in those employees at any time, FLRA states on its website. The authority responded to Federal News Network’s request and said it had no comment.

“The regulations are clear that this is something that can be done,” Tobias said. “There’s no adjudication over it. It’s something that can occur with the people that hold the recognition.”

In June, the National ICE Council filed a complaint with AFL-CIO and the Labor Department, requesting full financial independence from the national union, as well as protections against retaliation. The complaint also called for a financial audit of both AFGE and AFL-CIO.

National ICE Council President Chris Crane said the group made the decision, in part, because AFGE and AFL-CIO did not advocate for ICE employees, he told The Washington Times.

“They don’t care about workers,” he said. “They only care about their far-left agendas and politics. The corruption and misspending in the organization is out of control. ICE employees want no part in it.”

The council did not respond to Federal News Network’s request for comment.

From here, the union’s recognition of the chapter will be discontinued, meaning the union contract will no longer be applicable. The current collective bargaining agreements with AFGE will also no longer be valid for ICE officers.

If the union chapter chooses to reorganize and elect a new union representative, there is a process through FLRA for that, too.

“The people who are in that unit will have to organize, file a petition for an election [and] an election will have to be held,” Tobias said. “If there is a winner, then they’ll have to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement.”

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