AFGE Council 238 Signs Landmark Agreements with EPA on Major Contract Issues

WASHINGTON, DC – The AFGE Council 238 Future of Work Negotiating Team Thursday announced it has reached tentative agreements with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on three major articles of the union’s contract: teleworkremote work, and work schedules. AFGE Council 238, EPA’s largest employees union representing 7,500 workers from coast to coast, will vote on the ratification of the articles on Friday, December 10.

The Biden administration in June issued guidance detailing the administration’s initial approach to reopening agency offices during the pandemic and laying out their approach for telework, remote work, and other items in the post-COVID-19 pandemic federal workplace. Following the June and July 23rd guidances, AFGE Council 238 and EPA began negotiations on issues related to the future of work at the Agency. During that time, more than 140 AFGE Council 238 members — with representatives from every local — took an active part in shaping the future of work at the agency, meeting virtually as part of work groups and acting as observers during negotiations between the Council and the Agency.

This collaborative effort resulted in major victories for AFGE-represented bargaining unit employees who now will have telework and remote work options available based on job functions, not managerial preference, and work schedules that include regular schedules, compressed schedules, and maxiflex, all with expanded flexibilities. These articles are key to enhancing talent recruitment and retention at the Agency, and advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the EPA workforce. Moreover, successful telework and remote work programs yield many benefits, including protection of environmental quality by reducing commutes and in turn reducing traffic congestion and vehicle emissions, and a reduction in the agency’s carbon footprint.

“The AFGE Council 238 Bargaining Committee is immensely proud to announce we have reached tentative agreements with the EPA on telework, remote work and work schedules,” said Joyce Howell, AFGE Council 238 Chief Negotiator for Future of Work. “These landmark agreements will shape the future of work at the Environmental Protection Agency for years to come, and provide AFGE members with telework and remote work options, along with flexible work schedules. This was truly a team effort, as so many AFGE members chose to get involved in the negotiating process and make their voices heard. We look forward to the official ratification of these three articles next week.”

The general principles in the agreements are as follows:

Telework: The telework program as provided in the agreement will officially become a routine way of doing business at EPA. Eligibility of individual employees to participate in telework will be based on having the portable work to support the requested telework schedule; and meeting the requirements of the telework article. Telework eligibility shall be based on job functions and not managerial preference. Because telework requires collaboration between management and employees, both have responsibilities to ensure successful implementation and operation of the telework program. Requests for telework are not to be unreasonably denied.

Remote Work: Remote work is the term used for what was formerly called full-time telework.  Use of remote work by the EPA throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has enabled the Agency to continue most of its operations without interruption. Continuing to incorporate remote work as a routine mode of work at EPA through the agreement can enhance workforce retention and talent recruitment, and advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility at the Agency. Remote work may be approved for an employee on a temporary or permanent basis as part of a strategic analysis of EPA’s mission needs or to meet the personal needs of an employee. As with telework, remote work eligibility must be based on job functions and not managerial preference. Requests for remote work are not to be unreasonably denied.

Work Schedules: Expanded work schedule flexibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic have allowed EPA workers to effectively get the Agency’s work accomplished while also being flexible enough to attend to personal needs.  Work schedules in the agreement include regular schedules, compressed schedules (4-10 option + 5/4-9 option), and maxiflex schedules, all with expanded flexibilities. Maxiflex schedules, which will be available to both full-time and part-time employees, allow workers to vary the length of workdays, days worked, and arrival/departure times within a longer flexible band of time hours on a daily basis.