EPA Workers Descend on Capitol Hill, Demand Action to Address Mounting Staffing Crisis

AFGE Council 238
For Immediate Release: February 13, 2023
Contact: Eliana Gayle-Schneider, [email protected]

Environmental Protection Agency Workers Descend on Capitol Hill, Demand Action to Address Mounting Staffing Crisis

Scores of AFGE Council 238 members bring call for fair contract that meets client emergency directly to members of Congress, Agency leaders

WASHINGTON – Members of AFGE Council 238, the Environmental Protection Agency’s largest union, launched a three-day series of actions Monday in Washington D.C. to highlight their demand for a fair contract that addresses the mounting staffing crisis facing the agency. 

Lawyers, scientists, engineers and inspectors charged with protecting our environment will meet with members of Congress starting Monday, leading up to a rally on Wednesday at EPA headquarters. 

In the visits starting Monday, Council 238 members will brief members of Congress on the staffing crisis at the EPA and urge them to take actions that will help the EPA to recruit and retain the talented workers needed to achieve the Biden administration’s climate goals. The urgency to address the staffing crisis has grown as the climate crisis continues to accelerate and the climate initiatives in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act expanded the EPA’s mission and put increased pressure on EPA staff. 

Despite the increased workload, EPA staffing levels are 20% less than under the Clinton administration. In the past two years, the EPA has increased staffing by only 3%. The agency is losing senior staff to retirement at a record clip, and 3,000 employees, or 21% of the agency’s workforce, is currently eligible for retirement.  

“Our mission has grown enormously, and climate challenges continue to escalate, but EPA’s inability to hire and retain staff has created a crisis,” said AFGE Council 238 President Marie Powell Owens. “Salaries are not competitive and promotion opportunities are scarce. We need to raise pay and restore career ladders now. The future of the EPA and our planet are at stake.

During the week of actions, EPA employees will urge members of Congress to take steps to prioritize staff retention at the agency. They’ll present them with a briefing paper that calls on them to:  

  • Create a specific appropriation for promotion of experienced EPA staff and protecting the EPA’s 2023 appropriation from erosion due to the debt ceiling crisis.
  • Provide oversight of EPA’s hiring, including improved pay to attract in-demand STEM workers.
  • Demand more action to support diversity and inclusion at the EPA.

Following the Congressional visits, Council 238 members will hold a rally at noon on Wednesday at EPA headquarters, which will be live streamed via this link. Speakers will include leaders from the Sierra Club, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Labor Network for Sustainability, and Environmental Integrity Project.

The rally will highlight how countless skilled STEM workers are choosing private sector work because of the low wages and limited opportunities for career growth at the EPA. Federal salaries for STEM workers lag significantly compared with similar roles in the private sector, and the rising cost of living is making it even more difficult for dedicated employees to remain at the agency when better-paid opportunities for skilled workers are readily available. Employees are leaving EPA at a very high rate, draining the agency of staff and, importantly, hard earned expertise. 

Members of AFGE Council 238, representing 7,500 lawyers, scientists, engineers, and enforcement inspectors, among others, began talks with the agency for a new contract in June. As the agency’s responsibilities grow at a rapid rate following the passage of new laws with ambitious provisions to lower emissions and protect human health, union leaders and workers will turn to their elected officials to raise the need for expediency in settling a fair contract.

The week’s actions follow three letters sent to EPA Administrator Michael Regan calling for his support for workers’ demands during bargaining; one sent directly from more than 600 EPA employees, and others sent by 29 members of the U.S. Senate and 81 members of the U.S. House of Representatives urging Regan to ensure a fair contract that will allow the agency’s workforce to meet the climate emergency moment we are in.