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Immigration Judges Get Recognition of Union in DOJ Agreement

Dec. 7, 2021, 10:05 PM

The Department of Justice office that administers U.S. immigration courts agreed Tuesday to recognize the union representing more than 500 immigration judges.

The settlement agreement between the DOJ’s Executive Office of Immigration Review and the National Association of Immigration Judges resolves a dispute centered on the Trump administration’s push to nix recognition of the union, which has an existing collective bargaining agreement in place with the agency.

“Both parties are obligated to follow the agreement,” said Samuel Cole, executive vice president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. “We certainly hope to work closely with EOIR management on the many issues facing immigration courts.”

The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the settlement agreement.

The Federal Labor Relations Authority—a panel that oversees labor-management decisions for non-postal employees—ruled last year in favor of the Trump administration and held that the judges weren’t entitled to union representation because they are “management officials.” At the time, that board had a 2-1 Republican majority.

A motion to overturn that ruling is still pending before the FLRA, which issues decisions independent of federal agencies and worker representatives.

Democratic Majority Ahead

President Joe Biden pledged after his election last year to help bolster the labor movement, including the rights of federal employees to join unions. In July, the general counsel at the Federal Labor Relations Authority filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the Executive Office of Immigration Review over its refusal to recognize the union. But immigration judges had criticized the Biden administration’s inaction on union recognition before the Tuesday agreement.

Cole said the first order of business for the union would be to bargain with Department of Justice management over Covid-19 issues and in-person work requirements, calling it a critical issue for judges.

“Unfortunately, previous EOIR management has refused to talk to us about these issues,” he said. “They canceled meetings with the joint safety committee and have not engaged with NAIJ on these critical health and safety issues.”

The FLRA general counsel and the judges’ union agreed to withdraw unfair labor practice complaints against the Department of Justice as part of the settlement agreement. The DOJ has also dropped its opposition to the union’s motion to reconsider the 2020 FLRA decision finding immigration judges aren’t entitled to collective bargaining.

The three-person panel is set to switch from a Republican to a Democratic majority when the Senate confirms Susan Tsui Grundmann, who Biden nominated to join the board in August.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Kreighbaum in Washington at akreighbaum@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com