29 Senators Call on EPA to Support Workers’ Demands for Fair Contract

AFGE Council 238
For Immediate Release: Friday, November 18, 2022
Contact: Nina Wheeler, [email protected]

29 Senators Call on EPA to Support Workers’ Demands for Fair Contract that Empowers them to Confront Climate Emergency

Letter spearheaded by Sens. Van Hollen, Warren urges Administrator Regan to reach agreement allowing EPA workers to carry out ‘vital mission’

WASHINGTON – Twenty-nine Senators Monday sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan asking him to support a collective bargaining agreement with workers in the agency’s largest union that empowers them to recruit and retain the skilled and diverse workforce needed to confront the climate crisis.

The letter notes the need for a “robust and effective” EPA workforce to accomplish the provisions set forth in the newly-passed Inflation Reduction Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and calls on Administrator Regan to “finalize a contract that empowers EPA employees to carry out their vital mission.”

In the letter, spearheaded by Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Elizabeth Warren, the Senators note the urgency of complying with the Biden Administration’s directive for federal agencies to encourage collective bargaining, especially in the wake of the previous administration’s destructive approach to the federal workforce and lack of investment in climate action.

“We know you share our commitment to ensuring that EPA recruits and retains the top-notch scientists, engineers, and other specialists who are at the frontlines of keeping communities safe from pollution and confronting climate change,” Senators wrote in their letter to Regan. “Completing work on a new collective bargaining agreement that invests in the EPA workforce and protects sound science is vital to enabling the agency to fulfill its mission, both now and in the future.”

The correspondence echoes a letter signed by 79 members of Congress sent to Administrator Regan in September, and comes as negotiations between the union, AFGE Council 238, and the EPA take on heightened significance with the passage of the IRA.

Members of AFGE Council 238, representing 7,500 lawyers, scientists, engineers, and enforcement inspectors, among others, began talks with the agency for a new contract in June. As the agency’s responsibilities grow at a rapid rate following the passage of new laws with ambitious provisions to lower emissions and protect human health, union leaders and elected officials are raising the need for expediency in settling a fair contract.

More than 140 Council 238 members participated in a first-of-its kind, months-long process to brainstorm and draft contract proposals. The proposals call for scientific integrity, the restoration of career ladders, fair wages commensurate with experience, competitive wages and benefits to attract and retain expert engineers and scientists, and the active pursuit of a diverse workforce.

“This contract is a crucial catalyst for reaching the climate goals set forth by the Biden administration,” said AFGE Council 238 President Marie Owens Powell. “EPA is being faced with an enormous task – delivering planet-saving emissions reductions while addressing environmental injustice in our most exploited communities. While we are eager to take this on, we need to ensure the jobs within our agency offer highly competitive wages and benefits to attract and retain a highly skilled and diverse workforce.”

Federal salaries for STEM workers lag significantly compared with similar roles in the private sector. At EPA, promotions to the highest grade are merit based and infrequent. The agency has seen a significant reduction in its workforce over the last several years due to retirements, the hostile Trump administration, and COVID-19. With the union’s proposal to extend career ladder promotions, EPA salaries can begin to approach those seen in private industry, which in turn will help EPA to retain its most valued workers.

As the need to retain these workers becomes more urgent, elected leaders are standing together to support the EPA workforce in their demands. The Senators’ letter and the one from members of the House follows the launch of a petition from Council 238 members to Regan calling on him to support collective bargaining demands of EPA employees.

“The EPA must sign a strong and equitable contract with EPA workers to defend decades of research and science, and provide EPA with the resources to hire and retain the best staff possible,” the petition reads. “This includes better pay, increased diversity, and a guarantee that our work will be grounded in sound science. The contract we are bargaining now will serve to protect EPA workers after President Biden leaves office. It must prevent any subsequent administrations from stripping us of the power to protect the nation.”