Asha Ault of DC OLRCB highlights importance of mutual respect between management and unions in DC

By Aekrama Ahmed, American University – Class of ’25

On October 26, 2023, the Washington, DC chapter of the Labor and Employment Relations (DC LERA) and the Women’s National Democratic Club (WNDC) co-sponsored a sit-down conversation with Asha Ault, Chief of Staff of the District of Columbia Office of Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining (OLRCB), to discuss her perspective and experiences on workplace laws and labor relations in the District.

Moderated by Dr. David Jacobs, a professor at the American University Kogod School of Business, the conversation started off with a discussion of the fundamental elements of DC workplace laws and policies. Ms. Ault shared a simple truth: getting along in the workplace helps everyone achieve more. She expressed the opinion that when management and unions see each other as partners, they often find they are aiming for the same goals. “The more we fight, the less we get done,” she observed, pointing out that cooperation is key. For Ms. Ault, it’s about more than just working together – it’s about making sure everyone is treated fairly and with respect at work. She made it clear that success in the workplace comes from everyone pulling in the same direction.

Ms. Ault went on to describe the primary function of the OLRCB. She explained that the goal of the OLRCB is to represent the mayor and city agencies when they engage in negotiations with unions and address disputes about workplace issues. But what is really important, she pointed out, is that they focus on creating and keeping a good relationship with labor unions. For Ms. Ault, this is about making sure that there is a strong, cooperative, and lasting connection with the unions that represent the District’s public workforce. In D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser and City Administrator Kevin Donahue are committed to partnering with the City’s labor leaders and engage with them to identify, address and resolve workforce concerns before they become major issues.

When asked by Dr. Jacobs how the District of Columbia’s labor laws and policies differ from other jurisdictions, Ms. Ault outlined the distinct legislative framework that governs labor relations in the District. She pointed out that DC relies heavily on the Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act, a set of laws specific to the city, which is bolstered by actions of the Council of the District of Columbia and Mayoral orders. These form the backbone of labor laws in Washington, DC. These labor laws and regulations are guided by the District Personnel Manual and collective bargaining agreements that dictate workplace conditions and compensation.

Dr. Jacobs brought up the topic of Paid Family Leave, and Ms. Ault explained that in the District of Columbia, getting this benefit for workers was fairly straight-forward thanks to the DC Council. Ms. Ault emphasized the forward-thinking stance of law makers in DC, noting that such progressive policies are not as easily enacted or even entertained in other jurisdictions. DC Law establishes certain requirements in order to qualify for Paid Family Leave, but for the most part if you work in DC for a certain amount of time you will qualify for the benefit.

Dr. Jacobs and Ms. Ault also discussed bargaining over women’s issues. Ms. Ault explained that in DC, fighting for women’s rights in collective bargaining is not as tough as it might be in other jurisdictions because of the city’s progressive stance on working women’s rights. Ms. Ault also reflected on her personal experiences, noting a welcoming culture in the OLRCB.

When asked about sexual harassment law and collective bargaining in DC, Ms. Ault explained that under the DC Human Rights Act, all claims of sexual harassment and discrimination go through specific channels (for example, the DC Office of Human Rights) and are not subjects for negotiation in the collective bargaining process. Ms. Ault emphasized the strong influence of women within DC public unions. She also noted the high level of unionization in DC government, where about 70% of the 37,000 strong public workforce is unionized.

Ms. Ault wrapped up her remarks with a pivotal piece of advice that could serve as a model for other jurisdictions. The best practice in DC government labor relations is to see labor as a partner. Building a strong relationship and fostering open communication with labor unions are cornerstones of this approach. Ms. Ault stressed the importance of this partnership and urged other jurisdictions to consider adopting a similar collaborative mindset.

DC LERA submits 4 successful panel proposals for LERA-ILERA-FMCS in NYC (June 2024)

In 2024, the ILERA 20th World Congress, the LERA 76th Annual Meeting, and the FMCS 2024 National Labor-Management Conference will all be held simultaneously in New York City from June 26-30, 2024.

The Washington, DC chapter of the Labor and Employment Relations Association will be well-represented at the ILERA – LERA – FMCS conference next year, having submitted four successful chapter proposals for consideration by the conference committee.

DC LERA Board Member Jeff Wheeler will be moderating two panels featuring international members of the board, including Marcos Fraile Pastor of the Spanish Embassy, Yasmin Hilpert of the German Embassy, and Benoit Sevcik of the French Embassy. The titles of these two panels are:

  • Panel 1: The Role of the Labor Attaché: Diplomacy, Research, Analysis and Dialogue (LERA)
  • Panel 2: Hot Topics and Trends for Labor Attachés: US, National, and Global (LERA)

DC LERA member Stacy Hickox will be moderating DC LERA’s panel US and International Perspectives on Sexual Harassment in Organized and Unorganized Workplaces (LERA). This panel will reprise DC LERA’s successful 2023 webinar with an Asia Pacific twist.

Anannya Bhattacharjee of AFWA and Anna Lee Fos Tuvera of ITUC-Asia Pacific will also participate in a panel organized by Emily E. LB. Twarog on Building Women’s Union Leadership Globally through Education (ILERA). This panel will also feature Pinar Ozcan and  Stephanie Fortado and will be moderated by DC LERA President Tequila Brooks.

DC LERA member and President of the African Labour Law Society (ALLS) Pamhidzai Bamu will moderate DC LERA’s panel Constructing and Deconstructing Racism: Tales of Work and Life in Virginia, Europe, South Africa, South America, and the U.S. (ILERA) This panel will be a reprise of DC LERA’s successful 2022 webinar with the addition of a Latin American perspective and deeper discussion of affirmative measures to address racism in the workplace and society. In addition to all of the original speakers, the panel will feature Professor Mariela Noles Cotito of the Universidad del Pacifico (Lima, Peru).

Congratulations to the submitters, moderators, and speakers! We also wish success to everyone in the DC area who is submitting an individual paper proposal.

Tequila Brooks, Pamhidzai Bamu, and Emily E. LB. Twarog will be working to raise funds to assist speakers in traveling from outside the U.S. to the conference in New York next June. Please email dcleramailbox@gmail.com if you would like to make a contribution or have an idea about funding sources.

DC LERA hits the ground running with great in-person event on Nonprofit Union Organizing

DC LERA started 2023 off with a great event organized and moderated by incoming Membership Secretary Ben Kreider, All Workers are Workers: Union Organizing at Nonprofits. The event was held at the Economic Policy Institute. Many thanks to outgoing DC LERA President David Jacobs for organizing all the logistics.

Our guest speakers were Katie Parker and Justin Schweitzer, both of the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union (NPEU), International Federal of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) Local 70. Both Katie and Justin gave eloquent presentations discussing both the need for and the complexities of organizing workers in nonprofit organizations – not to mention negotiating collective bargaining agreements. An active and engaged audience posed several questions.

Thanks everyone for turning out! Stay tuned for more DC LERA events this year, and please reach out