Report details toxic culture in federal union's executive ranks

AFGE sign 

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Working IDEAL, a workplace inclusiveness consultancy, published its report investigating the American Federation of Government Employees following a months-long investigation after 10 former and current staffers accused its former National President of sexual harassment and other misconduct.

J. David Cox resigned as National President on Feb. 28 when an AFGE member filed internal charges earlier that month alleging he had sexually abused her son, who had worked as his personal driver, for almost ten years.

Cox had been on a leave of absence since Oct. 27.

Jenny Yang, a partner at Working IDEAL and a former chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the Obama Administration, led the investigation.

The report, which became public March 19, was the result of over 70 interviews, and reviews of more than 3,500 internal emails and documents. The investigation found evidence to support two former staffers' allegations of sexual and religiously-motivated harassment against Cox, and that Cox subjected other staffers and members to "conduct of a sexual nature and other inappropriate conduct."

Working IDEAL told FCW that Cox did not participate in the interview process and his lawyer did not respond to their inquiries.

Rocky Kabir, a former secretary, said that Cox had made disparaging remarks about his religion, and had directed him to use union resources off the clock and in secret to conduct Cox's successful re-election campaign in 2018, in addition to other sexual harassment.

"Cox leveraged his position of power to make unreasonable and unprofessional demands of Kabir," the report stated.

"The investigation revealed an inappropriate supervisor and subordinate power dynamic between Cox and Kabir that placed Kabir in a vulnerable position," such as asking Kabir to procure sex workers for Cox and accompanying him to strip clubs.

In an interview with FCW, Kabir said, "I hope that AFGE actively makes changes and fixes its internal gaps to take on external challenges and protect all workers."

Brett Copeland, a former communications director, came forward in October to say that on an April 2017 work trip, Cox had stuck his tongue in his ear, professed his love, and then invited him to his hotel room jacuzzi.

"I feel betrayed by senior staff and the union leaders," Copeland said in an interview with FCW.

"Senior staff, particularly General Counsel David Borer, knew that there wasn't something right in the President's office. It seems they didn't have the will to protect employees despite multiple warnings and red flags."

Working IDEAL told FCW that it gave AFGE an initial report detailing the allegations and met with National Executive Council members in March.

The report urged AFGE were to strengthen and clarify protocols for reporting harassment and other misconduct, have leadership commit to building an inclusive workplace culture free of harassment, transition responsibility for responding to EEO complaints from the General Counsel's office, consider using external resources to respond to such claims, and barring senior leadership from being able to attend meetings between the HR office and National Executive Council (NEC) officials concerning misconduct by elected officials.

In response to the report, AFGE said EEO responsibilities had been delegated to its Human Resources department and to the NEC's Legal Rights Committee on an interim basis. AFGE said it would also hire a "strong leader" to take charge of human resources and "assist [the organization] in making policy and cultural changes."

AFGE also said it adopted a new Code of Conduct and its NEC would work to implement Working IDEAL's specific policy change recommendations within the next four months.

"On behalf of the entire NEC, we would like to thank Brett Copeland and Rocky Kabir for coming forward to tell their stories," said National President Everett Kelley in a statement.

"The courage these two former employees have shown in coming forward has triggered a series of events which will allow the NEC to hold the union's former president accountable for his misconduct and will allow us to make necessary changes to ensure that situations like this will never happen again."

About the Author

Lia Russell is a staff writer and associate editor at FCW covering the federal workforce. Before joining FCW, she worked as a freelance labor reporter in San Francisco for outlets such SF Weekly, The American Prospect and The Baffler. Russell graduated with a bachelor's degree from Bard College.

Contact Lia at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @LiaOffLeash.


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