AFGE Council 238 Statement on Return to Office MOU

After seven months of negotiations, the Environmental Protection Agency and AFGE Council 238, the Agency’s largest employee union, on Saturday reached a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on office reopening. The MOU includes landmark advances won by the union for EPA workers, protecting them from the virus— and scheduling a return-to-office no sooner than May 2nd.

Marie Owens Powell, President of AFGE Council 238, released the following statement celebrating the union’s wins to advance flexibility and safety for EPA employees:

“Following months of negotiations, we are proud to reach an agreement that will give EPA employees the flexibility we need to prioritize our health and safety, as well as that of our communities. We fought to ensure this agreement reflected the voices of workers and remained in line with the mission of our agency: to protect human health and the environment.

“Our negotiations with Agency leadership have ensured a return-to-office date no sooner than May 2nd, giving employees the critical time to prepare and apply for accommodations. The Agency will also continue to provide long-term COVID-19 protections for staff and allow employees to carry hand-held CO2 monitors provided by the union to ensure proper ventilation in EPA buildings to mitigate the spread of the virus — a scientifically-proven precaution recommended by our own union members, some of whom are air quality experts.

“This major win has been an immense team effort of many AFGE members who chose to get involved and make their voices heard. However, we are disappointed that in spite of our experts’ recommendations, the Agency will not itself provide CO2 monitors for employees to use at no cost. Delivering the highest standard of safety precaution through CO2 monitoring should not be the individual responsibility of EPA employees and union members. That’s why, as the country looks to EPA and the federal government to set an example as a model employer with the highest standards for health and safety, our union will continue its fight for all measures to protect our members at work.

“As the nation’s indoor air experts and dedicated public servants, we understand that EPA has an opportunity to meet the moment and set the strongest precedent for offices around the country during this transition. EPA employees are committed to protecting human health and the environment, not only among our colleagues but also among our fellow commuters, our families and our communities. We are eager to continue working with the Agency to ensure all workers are able to do their jobs effectively, but we will fight for the safety of all when measures are inexpensive and easy to implement.”