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May 6, 2014
Union Is Target of IRS Attorney's Latest Accusations
by David Cay Johnston

Full Text Published by Tax Analysts®


The union that represents IRS workers fails to protect members working in the Office of Chief Counsel's Manhattan office from abusive bosses and ignores equally abusive union stewards, a veteran IRS lawyer said in a May 5 letter sent to Congress.

Union officials said the accusations by Jane Kim, a 10-year veteran chief counsel attorney for the Small Business/Self-Employed Division, are groundless.

Kim sent the letter six weeks after Tax Analysts broke the news of her initial accusations of mismanagement by supervising lawyers in Chief Counsel's offices in New York and Long Island.

In her new complaint, Kim shifts her focus from management to the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents many IRS workers.

Kim said the union does nothing to protect lawyers who are loaded up with so many cases that they are forced to work off the clock for weeks at a time, in effect accusing the union of helping the IRS engage in a form of wage theft.

Kim also accuses two union stewards, whose names are redacted in her new letter, of "yelling" at paralegals, clerks, and others who complain about abusive managers and unfair treatment.

Union officials disputed Kim's characterization of events. In a letter responding to Kim, NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley said at least some of Kim's allegations had been found to be "baseless."

Kim's initial complaint focused on managers who she said assign light caseloads to favored IRS lawyers, while others are forced into working seven days a week for up to a month at a time.

She described "a sustained pattern of abuse" by managers she named, saying they doled out work unevenly. In that March 18 letter, Kim alleged "gross waste of government resources, gross mismanagement, violation of labor laws, and active abuse and retaliation against employees."

In her new complaint, which focuses on the union, Kim cited the case of an unnamed paralegal who was assigned 244 cases while others carried no more than 170 cases.

Kim indicated that even the smaller workloads are excessive, the result of budget cuts imposed by Congress.

The paralegal with 244 cases, Kim said, was written up for "poor performance," the first step in proceedings to force the paralegal to resign or be fired.

Kim said the two unnamed union stewards would not help the paralegal, telling the union member to document each instance of abuse but giving no assistance. Following an auto accident in which the paralegal sustained severe injuries, he returned to work only to find demands continued that he handle a heavier workload than everyone else, Kim wrote.

The stewards did nothing, Kim asserted, telling the paralegal "it was up to him to defend himself."

Kim asserts that in these and other cases, both Kelley and Frank Heffler, president of Chapter 47 in Manhattan, refused to protect members from abusive bosses.

She also says they refused to investigate abuses by the two stewards, who she said were "relentless" in protecting those IRS employees given light workloads.

Kim said Kelley, Heffler, and other union leaders should alert NTEU members to their rights under Article 18, Section 1, of the union constitution. It provides a mechanism for members to file a grievance against stewards and other union leaders who fail to help members.

"In short," Kim wrote, "if an employee faces abuse and intimidation from the very people who are charged with protecting them, where" are they to go?

Kim added that she knows several NTEU members "who will state that they continued to pay union dues, despite a lack of representation, because it felt like a form of mafia protection money."

Kelley issued a statement to Tax Analysts:


    NTEU prides itself on providing effective representation for frontline employees. NTEU staff representatives have discussed Ms. Kim's concerns with her and looked into the issues she raised. I have twice responded to correspondence from Ms. Kim outlining NTEU's position. NTEU has no further comment on this issue.

Responding to a request for comment, Heffler said, "You need to ask for proof from her." Previously, Heffler said he was aware of Kim's complaints and found them lacking merit.

He cited numerous examples of Chapter 47 acting to protect members from abuses, including one employee -- a grandmother -- who was put under surveillance for weeks on suspicions she was a drug dealer, including watching her eat her lunch from a brown paper bag on a park bench near the IRS office in Lower Manhattan.

Heffler said the woman was fully cleared and that union leaders raised questions about the weeks-long probe, saying investigators used poor judgment in not considering the motives of the person who made the ultimately unfounded accusations.

Kim's letter was sent to Senate Finance Committee member Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who has long been critical of the NTEU and unions generally, and 12 other senators, as well as House members in both parties.


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