Bloomberg: EPA Union Seeks Clarity That Agency Will Honor Telework Pact

By: Stephen Lee
April 14, 2023

The EPA’s biggest union wants a written confirmation that the agency won’t contravene an earlier agreement as it rethinks its telework policy, as urged in a Thursday White House memo.

“It’s our hope and expectation that our contracts—which provide for workplace flexibility—will be honored,” said Marie Owens Powell, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 238, a nationwide union that represents about 7,500 Environmental Protection Agency employees. “We’re looking forward to official confirmation of that fact.”

The AFGE and EPA reached an agreement during the Covid-19 pandemic allowing for more telework and remote work.

The EPA declined an interview request.

EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe said in a Thursday internal email obtained by Bloomberg Law that the agency’s leadership team will send out a survey to all employees and meet with staffers and their union representatives to gather input on remote work. She said no employees’ work schedules will change until after a thorough review.

McCabe’s email came in response to a White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) memo to agency heads earlier in the day. That memo directed agencies to review their remote work policies in the hopes that they would “substantially increase meaningful in-person work at federal offices, particularly at headquarters and equivalents.”

The EPA is on a hiring spree and has asked Congress for funding to bring 1,960 new employees on board. That goal could clash with findings that post-pandemic, job seekers want more work flexibility, as recently documented by McKinsey & Company. The OMB memo also noted that agency heads should still use “flexible operational policies as an important tool in talent recruitment and retention.”

Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, said it’s important for agencies to be flexible in interpreting the OMB guidance and adjusting their plans.

“You have to pay attention to the needs of the labor market,” Stier said. “I think a lot of this is not so much about having a set rule, but about having smart management and recognizing that a priority has to be for the federal government to recruit great talent. Flexibility is clearly going to be an important element of the value proposition they can offer.”

He also predicted that if agencies limit flexibility in a way that hurts their ability to recruit talent, they will increasingly have to turn to government contractors.

Stier’s group released a report earlier this week finding that the EPA ranked 15th out of 24 mid-sized agencies on work-life balance.