E&E News: Federal union blasts ‘Trumpian behavior’ by EPA

Federal union blasts ‘Trumpian behavior’ by EPA

As urgency to finalize an agreement grows, contract bargaining talks with the agency’s largest union have become contentious.


03/26/2024 01:45 PM EDT

GREENWIRE | The nation’s largest federal worker union says EPA is using bargaining tactics last tried during the Trump administration, as protections for agency employees are set to expire in months.

American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 750,000 workers at federal agencies and the District of Columbia city government, sent a letter Friday to EPA Administrator Michael Regan warning about “the dire situation” between the agency and its affiliate, AFGE Council 238.

The two sides are trying to wrap up bargaining over their next agreement, which could help defend EPA staff during a potential second Trump administration if President Joe Biden loses his reelection bid.

Negotiations, however, have become contentious as the agency and the union struggle to reach agreement on the duration of the next contract. The current deal is set to end July 1, adding to the urgency of negotiations.

“In stark contrast to not only the rhetoric but also to the actions of the Biden Administration and its strong commitment to unions and the collective bargaining process, I am told that EPA management is using the most extreme anti-union, scorched earth tactics as they threaten to unilaterally terminate our contract at its current expiration date,” AFGE President Everett Kelley said in the letter obtained by E&E News.

Kelley said such a move by the agency would lead to litigation and be perceived as “a harsh anti-union statement,” destroying the remaining goodwill between EPA’s managers and the union’s bargaining unit employees.

“We are startled by this Trumpian behavior and ask that you intervene immediately,” Kelley requested of Regan, noting an executive order signed by Biden that calls for agency heads to instruct their subordinates to engage in collective bargaining. The union president also mentioned another Biden order that states it’s the administration’s policy to encourage worker organizing.

Kelley said not allowing the current contract to remain in effect while talks continue for a new deal violates Biden’s executive orders and is “a profound insult to the hardworking employees of the EPA” who want to negotiate an agreement.

He called on the EPA administrator to tell his representatives at the bargaining table to abide by Biden’s directives and “act with the decency these executive orders order.”

AFGE Council 238 is EPA’s biggest union, representing over 9,000 employees and has been bargaining with the agency to reach its next contract. The two have reached agreement on 39 articles, but the last remaining issue is whether that next deal will remain in effect while both sides bargain to reach a new one after it expires.

Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe described those talks with the council as “collaborative” in a statement shared with E&E News.

“Contrary to the impression given by President Kelley’s letter, the agency and Council 238 have been engaged in collaborative negotiations for more than two years over a new collective bargaining agreement,” McCabe said.

She added, “The particular contract term that the union is now objecting to was proposed by the union itself and has been in the parties’ CBAs, in some similar form, for decades.”

AFGE Council 238 has pushed back against that framing by EPA of the article in question.

“AFGE does not share this perspective and would not have willingly consented to such conditions,” Marie Owens Powell, president of the council, and Joyce Howell, the council’s lead negotiator, said in a letter sent last week to McCabe.

“The bottom line is: there was no agreement and no meeting of the minds on the Duration Article language,” they said.

Howell told E&E News the current contract will expire on July 1 while the next agreement will end after three years. The union and the agency are still trying to broker a deal on whether the next contract will remain in effect after it expires.

The issue is an important one for the council. When negotiations broke down in 2019, EPA under the Trump administration imposed a contract on the union, limiting the rights of the employees it represents. AFGE wants to avoid a repeat of that episode.

McCabe said at EPA’s invitation, the union agreed to meet with a mediator Wednesday to discuss outstanding contract terms.

“EPA is fully supportive of its workforce and AFGE’s representation of the workforce,” the deputy administrator said. “We look forward to a new CBA that all parties can celebrate.”

Union officials confirmed they plan to attend the meeting Wednesday.

“We are trying one last-ditch effort to get duration language we can mutually agree to,” said Nicole Cantello, president of AFGE Local 704, which represents EPA Region 5 employees.