The Association of Administrative Law Judges is both a labor union and a professional organization that represents more than 1,000 federal administrative law judges engaged in adjudication at the Social Security Administration.
The SSA’s judiciary forms the largest adjudicative body in the western world. Each year, the SSA’s administrative law judges hold hundreds of thousands of hearings. More Americans will appear before an SSA administrative law judge than in any other judicial forum. Yet the procedures and issues related to SSA hearings are not widely understood because they are closed to the public to protect the privacy rights of claimants. Some even refer to these courts as “the hidden judiciary.”
The AALJ leadership is elected every three years by a majority vote of AALJ members. The leadership comprises a President, Executive Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and 10 Regional Vice Presidents. These officers form the AALJ National Executive Board and are responsible for setting organizational policies. The four national officers (President, Executive Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer) form the National Executive Committee, responsible for carrying out the Board's decisions. There are also several non-voting, appointed leadership positions: National Grievance Chair, Deputy National Grievance Chair, Director of Labor Education and Chief Contract Negotiator. At the local level, members at each SSA hearing office elect a Local Association Representative (LAR) to serve as a union liaison.
A Union for Judges
The union is the collective voice of SSA judges. It advocates for reasonable and appropriate working conditions for judges, protects judicial independence, and defends due process protections for the American public.
The union recently negotiated a new seven-year, collective-bargaining agreement related to judges’ conditions of employment. The AALJ also has engaged in mid-term bargaining over matters related to hearing scheduling, office relocations/renovations, and hearing-office case processing. In addition to bargaining a contract, the union represents members during Weingarten Rights meetings, grievance and arbitration proceedings, and disciplinary matters.
The AALJ has a very active legislative program designed to ensure that the administrative law judges employed at SSA hold hearings consistent with the Administrative Procedure Act; that all SSA judges are properly classified as bargaining unit members; that ALJs are protected from the increased health and safety threats posed against federal and judicial employees; and that the rights of claimants who appear before judges are protected. On legislative matters, the AALJ works closely in coordination with the officers and legislative staff of IFPTE to lobby Congressional representatives.
Most of the AALJ’s activities are performed through a committee system, with the major committees being the Labor Management Committee, National Bargaining Committee, Legislative Committee, Health and Safety Committee, Judicial Educational Committee, and Joint Technology Advisory Committee. Committee members are selected from both the AALJ leadership and the membership at large, work on tasks designated by the leadership, and produce recommendations for approval by AALJ’s National Executive Board. Most committees meet in person at least twice a year in the Baltimore/Washington D.C., area and meet more frequently via telephone or video calls.
Since the administration of President John F. Kennedy, the federal government has recognized that unions are in the public interest and that collaboration between unions and federal agencies achieves better results. The AALJ and SSA have mutual goals of maintaining respect for the judiciary; ensuring that decisions made by administrative law judges are upheld by federal courts; and that the adjudication of Social Security claims are handled in an efficient and fair manner.
History of the AALJ
Originally founded as a professional association in 1971, in 1999 the AALJ was certified as the exclusive bargaining representative for SSA’s administrative law judges, sometimes referred to as “ALJs”, and is affiliated with the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) (www.ifpte.org). IFPTE is an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, a national labor federation (www.aflcio.org).
IFPTE is an international union representing highly skilled professionals in the public and private sector. Among its other members in the federal government, IFPTE represents immigration judges employed by the Department of Justice, engineers at the Department of Defense, NASA rocket scientists, researchers at the Congressional Research Service, and employees of the Government Accountability Office. The AALJ is sometimes referred to as IFPTE Judicial Council No. 1.
What We Do
- provide member and LAR training
- share best practices
- advise and educate the agency on workplace issues and managing change
- inform and advise the agency on management changes
- make recommendations to enhance morale and work/life balance
- report on the progress of our discussions and negotiations
- meet with members of Congress and their staff
- inform stakeholders about relevant issues
- lobby Congress
- recommend legislation that benefits ALJs
- keep our concerns in front of legislators
- litigate ALJ issues through the federal judiciary
- promote ALJ interests with professional organizations
- keep channels of communication open with leaders of stakeholder organizations
- speak at events and conferences to make your voice heard
- bargain collectively and speak with one voice
- negotiate favorable contract provisions and enforce the terms
- require the agency to abide by workplace rules, including health and safety rules
- promote fairness and due process for our members and claimants who appear before us
- maintain an engaged membership
- ensure strength in numbers and the power of the collective voice
Membership in the AALJ is voluntary. Most of the judges employed by SSA choose to join. Associate memberships also are open to other SSA employees, including managers. Retired judges also can (and do) remain active in the organization
How to Join
Any administrative law judge who is not yet a member of the AALJ is encouraged to join. Membership forms to become a member or associate member can be found here.
Reporters and other members of the news media with questions or seeking interviews can contact our media representative, Jamie Horwitz, at