600+ AFGE Members Send Letter to EPA Administrator, Call for Support of Demands for Competitive Wages, Fair Promotions

AFGE Council 238
For Immediate Release: Thursday, December 8, 2022
Contact: Nina Wheeler, [email protected]

600+ AFGE Members Send Letter to EPA Administrator, Call for Support of Demands for Competitive Wages, Fair Promotions

EPA employees emphasize need for promotion overhaul in new contract so agency can recruit, retain talented workers to carry out urgent new climate initiatives 

Follows calls from Congress for action by EPA to address looming staffing crisis; one-quarter of job offers rejected

WASHINGTON – More than 600 members of AFGE Council 238, the EPA’s largest union, sent a letter Thursday to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan calling on him to support their demands for a fair promotion framework to allow the agency to remain competitive with private sector employers and recognize workers for their efforts carrying out the enormous responsibility of confronting the climate crisis.

In the letter, workers highlight demands for extending the career ladder pay scale and merit promotions for the lawyers, inspectors and engineers tasked with protecting the environment. They point to the need for these changes to allow the agency to recruit and retain the talented workers needed to carry out new climate initiatives under the  Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). In the letter, employees note that twenty-five percent of EPA’s job offers are rejected, a sign of a looming staffing crisis that can be averted with action at the bargaining table, where they are in negotiations with the EPA for a new contract.

“AFGE workers should earn the pay that captures the complexity and difficulty of the work required by their positions,” the workers write to Regan. “More challenging work hasn’t gone away—instead, employees are performing more difficult work without being paid at a rate that competes with the private sector.”

The AFGE members are taking the unusual step of taking their demands directly to Administrator Regan in an effort to highlight the urgency of the issue in their ongoing negotiations. The letter follows ones sent by 29 members of the U.S. Senate and 81 members of the U.S. House of Representatives urging Regan to ensure a fair contract that will allow the agency’s workforce to meet the climate emergency moment we are in.

“We’re losing out on skilled workers we desperately need even as our work becomes more complex and the stakes get higher. With retirements looming, we need to incentivize people to join and stay at the EPA so we can take on the enormous task of confronting climate change. Our workforce is asking the Agency to come to the table with a fair proposal for making our jobs more competitive to address these staffing issues, because our ability to meet the challenges ahead depends on it” said AFGE Council 238 President Marie Owens Powell. 

In the letter, the AFGE members write that the IRA and IIJA require a robust and effective EPA workforce that is performing more complex work to accomplish the tasks President Biden has assigned to EPA.

They write to Regan that the Agency is getting the benefit of a lower paid workforce tasked with more complicated work, but not earning the pay that they deserve. They argue this creates a retention issue, with skilled employees leaving the Agency for other employers (private and federal) that will pay them what they are worth. And they argue it’s a recruitment issue because the career path at the EPA doesn’t pay as high as other comparable jobs within the federal government or private sector.

It’s also a morale issue, they claim in the letter, writing, “Dedicated EPA employees are not being recognized for the quality and value of their work to advance EPA’s mission.”

Federal salaries for STEM workers lag significantly compared with similar roles in the private sector, and the rising cost of living is making it even more difficult for dedicated employees to remain at the agency when better-paid opportunities for skilled workers are readily available. 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.

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.