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Peter Nickles, Mayor Adrian Fenty’s general counsel, is gearing up for a union battle over his plans for possible widescale terminations at the D.C. Department of Disability Services. The department has been plagued by dozens of deaths of developmentally disabled residents under questionable circumstances in contracted group homes, and its officials have been accused of covering up damning details about the deaths. Nickles has told Legal Times that DDS has become a “dumping ground” for unwanted employees from other departments, contributing to pervasive problems and a lack of accountability. He also said that, if needed, he would seek a court order to temporarily suspend collective bargaining agreements in order to speed up terminations to help avoid a possible court-ordered takeover of DDS in a 31-year-old class action now called Evans v. Fenty. None of that news sat well with Johnnie Walker, president of Local 383 of the American Federation of Government Employees, who blames management for the problems at DDS, not the more than 190 front-line employees represented by AFGE. “To always use the workers as pawns and scapegoats for poor management and direction has to come to an end,” he says. “Some of these people have seen 21 administrators come and go since the life of the Evans case.” AFGE’s general counsel is standing by to fight any attempt to suspend the collective bargaining agreement, says Walker, who added that only one DDS employee has been fired this year for performance issues. For now, Nickles says he will hold off on any firings until new performance standards are released for all department employees by the end of the month, along with a review of all managerial positions. But if employee performance doesn’t improve soon thereafter, Nickles says he will do “whatever is necessary to meet the court orders” for needed improvements at DDS.
Brendan Smith can be contacted at [email protected].

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