44 Members of Congress Call on EPA to Support Workers’ Demands for DEIA Provisions in Fair, Inclusive Contract

AFGE Council 238
For Immediate Release: Wednesday, August 23, 2023
Contact: Eliana Gayle-Schneider, [email protected] 

44 Members of Congress Call on EPA to Support Workers’ Demands for DEIA Provisions in Fair, Inclusive Contract

Letter spearheaded by Reps. DeGette, Pocan urges Administrator Regan to ‘bargain in good faith’ with workers, notes need for diverse workforce to achieve climate goals

WASHINGTON – Forty-four Members of Congress Tuesday sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan asking him to bargain in good faith with the agency’s largest union as they work towards a new agreement, specifically in terms of the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEIA) article of the contract.

The letter notes the need for a “strong, dedicated, and diverse EPA workforce” to achieve ambitious climate goals and protect vulnerable communities. In the letter, spearheaded by Representatives Diana DeGette and Mark Pocan, members of Congress urge Administrator Regan to consider the Biden Administration’s focus on equity during the bargaining process with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Council 238, which represents more than 8,000 EPA employees nationwide.

“As you know, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has committed to making equity, environmental justice, and civil rights a centerpiece of the agency’s mission. This mission is as timely and critical as ever while our country continues to respond to the ongoing climate crisis and endure repeated attacks against our LGBTQ+ community. Accordingly, for the EPA to perform its mission to the fullest, the agency needs a highly trained, well-supported, diverse and inclusive workforce,” Members of Congress write in the letter. They continue, “We support President Biden and Vice President Harris in their focus on equity not simply as a fixture of their administration, but the responsibility of the entire federal government, including EPA.”

As the EPA seeks to hire 1,800 workers over the next year, it is essential that a strong contract is in place to ensure EPA can build out the diverse, skilled workforce needed to do the important work of combating climate change and supporting affected communities. 

With temperatures reaching record highs and a growing need to address natural and man-made climate disasters including floods, wildfires, and toxic waste spillage, elected officials are demanding the EPA come to the table to ensure it can attract and retain a top-notch workforce. As EPA workers respond on the ground to these disasters, it is crucial their workforce reflects the communities they serve in order to provide culturally sensitive and efficient relief. The DEIA provisions AFGE Council 238 is calling for in their contract are focused on eliminating implicit racial bias in the hiring process, providing DEIA training for employees, and accountability for working towards DEIA goals, among others.

“The proposals put forward by the union for our contract are nothing less than essential for our workforce to continue to do the hard labor of protecting this planet and its people in the midst of a climate crisis,” said Marie Owens Powell, President of AFGE Council 238. “We are grateful to the elected officials who understand the gravity of our situation. We are not only bargaining for the best deal for our members, our demands are rooted in the need to do the best work possible for our communities and the environment. We need a strong, savvy workforce to confront this problem, and that won’t be possible without prioritizing diversity in our recruitment.”

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, competitive wages and benefits to attract and retain expert engineers and scientists, and the active pursuit of a diverse workforce.

This is the third open letter Administrator Regan has received over the last year from Senators and Members of Congress asking him to support EPA workers’ demands during the bargaining process. It follows an open letter the union sent Administrator Regan in May expressing their concerns around an impasse that was reached while bargaining the DEIA contract proposals. In that letter, Chief Negotiator Joyce Howell called into question the agency’s purported commitment to DEIA when contrasted with their refusal to ratify the DEIA provisions proposed by the union, noting “awareness without commitment is meaningless.”

Members of AFGE Council 238, representing 8,000 lawyers, scientists, engineers, and enforcement inspectors, among others, began talks with the agency for a new contract more than a year ago in June 2022. 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 continue to raise the need for expediency in settling a fair contract.