81 Members of Congress Call on EPA Administrator Regan to Support Workers’ Demands

AFGE Council 238
For Immediate Release: Monday, September 26, 2022
Contact: Nina Wheeler, [email protected]

More than 80 Members of Congress Call on EPA Administrator Regan to Support Workers’ Demands for Contract that Prioritizes Strong, Skilled Workforce to Confront Climate Emergency

Letter spearheaded by Reps. Tonko, DeGette highlights widespread support for strong investment to recruit, retain skilled workers, address climate crisis

WASHINGTON – More than 80 members of Congress Monday sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan asking him to support a collective bargaining agreement with the agency’s largest union that enables the EPA to recruit, retain, and protect the skilled workforce needed to confront the climate crisis.

In the letter, spearheaded by U.S. Rep Paul Tonko, who chairs the Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee; and U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, who chairs the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, the members of Congress raised the need for a strong, skilled workforce to carry out new climate initiatives enacted by the Biden administration. It is signed by 79 members of the House of Representatives and Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

“In the past year, EPA has been given new and significant authorities and historic funding to

address many of the nation’s most pressing environmental and environmental justice challenges,” the members of Congress wrote to Regan. “We believe the successful implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act will require a well-trained, diverse, dedicated, and robust EPA workforce.”

Members of AFGE Council 238, EPA’s largest union, representing 7,500 lawyers, scientists, engineers, and enforcement inspectors, among others, began talks with the agency for a new contract in June, but the process took on new urgency with the passage last month of the Inflation Reduction Act, which provides unprecedented resources to the agency to battle climate change.

“At a time when EPA has been given historic funding by Congress, it is imperative that EPA’s career employees are supported by the agency’s political leadership,” the members of Congress wrote to Regan. “Improving the rights and protections of EPA employees is critical to recruit and retain the talented and diverse workforce needed to fulfill the agency’s mission to address climate change, enhance environmental justice, and protect public health and the environment.”

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.

“The new laws passed by Congress place an ever more complex workload onto EPA’s plate, requiring the  Agency to attract and retain the best scientists and engineers on the planet,” said President Marie Owens Powell. “The Agency must address the pay gap with private industry and endorse competitive workplace salaries for highly demanding jobs requiring specialized skills and expertise.”

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. In their letter, members of Congress wrote of their concern that the EPA’s failure to make changes to promotion policies will result in a “draining” of the EPA’s workforce as employees leave for the private sector.

“AFGE’s proposal to invest in EPA’s workforce is a cost-effective solution that will help employees perform the mission of the agency,” Congress members wrote. “These investments pay out enormous dividends in attracting and retaining the best and the brightest to fill the ranks of EPA’s highly educated, highly trained workforce.”

The letter from Congress members 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.”