AFGE Will Split from Its ICE Union Over Ideological Divide
A union council representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees has been agitating to become independent, although the move presents risks for the group.
The nation’s largest federal employee union is about to get a little bit smaller.
The American Federation of Government Employees announced Wednesday that it had made the “difficult” decision to begin the process of removing its council representing officers at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, filing paperwork with the Federal Labor Relations Authority to disclaim interest in the bargaining unit.
For years, the relationship between AFGE’s national leadership and AFGE Council 118, which represents ICE officers, has been an uneasy one. The ICE union was one of the few labor groups to endorse Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign, while the national organization has traditionally supported Democratic candidates and fought tooth and nail against President Trump’s workforce policies.
That tension came to a boil last month, when The Washington Times reported that the ICE union had filed a complaint with the Labor Department seeking “autonomy” from AFGE and requesting an audit of the union and its parent organization, the AFL-CIO. AFGE Council 118 President Chris Cane did not respond to requests for comment, but he told The Times that the national union was “anti-ICE, anti-law enforcement.”
“AFGE and the AFL-CIO became far-left organizations a long time ago,” Crane reportedly said. “They don’t care about workers. They only care about their far-left agendas and politics.”
An AFGE official told Government Executive that staff on the national level have engaged in “multiple discussions” with the ICE council in recent weeks to convince them to remain part of the union but were unsuccessful. In a statement, AFGE National President Everett Kelley bemoaned the groups’ inability to reconcile their differences.
“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,” Kelley said. “As a result, we have made the difficult decision to disclaim interest in this unit. While we had hoped to avoid this outcome, today’s action begins the process of granting Council 118’s request.”
The FLRA’s process for disclaiming interest in a bargaining unit is a fairly simple one, but for the employees being disclaimed, the ramifications could be wider than expected.
Once the process is complete, the ICE council would not automatically become independent. Instead, the bargaining unit itself is disbanded, and all collective bargaining agreements between AFGE Council 118 and the agency are voided.
Instead, employees at the agency would have to conduct an entirely new organization drive, whether it be independently or in coordination with another federal employee union. Following a new bargaining unit designation and election overseen by the FLRA, the newly reconstituted union would then have to undergo the lengthy process of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with ICE management from scratch.