AFGE president accused of using union resources for re-election campaign
- By Lia Russell
- Dec 23, 2019
AFGE President J. David Cox flanked by Democratic Party leaders at a Capitol Hill event. (Photo credit: Chase Gunter)
The president of the American Federation of Governmental Employees allegedly misused union resources to promote his re-election campaign.
According to documents obtained by FCW, AFGE President J. David Cox -- who earlier this year was accused of sexual harassment by union staffer -- now faces accusations of a different sort. Jim Davis, AFGE's former national secretary-treasurer and a member of AFGE Local 987, has charged Cox with violating the union's "no politics" rule.
FCW obtained a Nov. 15 letter from Davis to current National Secretary-Treasurer Everett Kelly that laid out the nature of the charges.
"Cox's conduct and actions are detrimental and inimical to the best interest of the Federation and constitute offenses against the Federation," Davis wrote. "Cox instructed AFGE Staff to assist in his campaign for re-election to the position of National President. Staff were instructed, but not limited to, creating and updating Cox's campaign website and to draft campaign literature and to not tell anyone they were doing it. As AFGE National President Cox knew his instructions were in violation of AFGE rules and Federal Statue."
Attempts to reach Davis and Cox were unsuccessful.
AFGE's constitution states, "No monetary or other resources of AFGE or any employer shall be contributed or applied to promote the candidacy of any candidate in an election. Such resources include, but are not restricted to, dues monies and assessments, publications, facilities, office equipment, union or employer email, stationery, or other supplies."
Cox has been on leave of absence from AFGE since Oct. 27, when as many as 10 former and current staffers alleged they had witnessed him engage in sexual harassment. Kelly has been carrying out Cox's duties in an acting capacity since then.
Rocky Kabir, a former union secretary for Cox, said in a sworn affidavit that Cox directed him to "perform work to support his 2018 campaign re-election after normal working hours from his apartment using his and my personal computers."
In an interview with FCW, Kabir confirmed that he was the one who put forth the rule-breaking complaint after the Executive Retirement Committee approached him during the course of its investigation into the sexual harassment allegations. "At the time, I felt like I was doing the right thing by working on his reelection campaign, even if it violated AFGE's 'no politics' rule," he said.
The proper thing, he added, would have been to hire outside staff to perform those campaign duties.
Former AFGE communications director Brett Copeland told FCW he was disappointed the union apparently has not yet addressed the sexual harassment claims. In October, union officials said AFGE's executive board and general counsel referred those allegations to an independent committee for review, and would turn to a third party for investigation if that was deemed necessary.
"It is disappointing to me that nothing has happened thus far, and I don't understand why it's been so slow," Copeland said in an interview. "It seems be an easy issue to solve considering how many people went on record. There's a lack of internal policies to address this."
Copeland said Cox put his tongue in Copeland's ear, hugged him tightly, and told him he loved him while they were on a business trip in April 2017. Other employees reported that Cox made sexually aggressive comments towards them, such as saying he was "aroused" by them. Cox denied all sexual harassment charges against him in an Oct. 28 statement provided to reporters.
AFGE is the U.S.'s biggest federal employee union, representing some 250,000 workers across the federal government in agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and Environmental Protection Agency.
Multiple attempts to reach AFGE officials for comment -- about the union's response to the latest allegations and the status of the sexual harassment investigation -- were unsuccessful.
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.