Largest EPA Union Enters into Mediation on Key Contract Articles as Members Push for DEI Policies, Scientific Integrity

AFGE Council 238
For Immediate Release: December 4, 2023
Media Contacts: Phoebe Rogers, [email protected]
Nina Wheeler, [email protected]

Largest EPA Union Enters into Mediation on Key Contract Articles as  Members Push for DEI Policies, Scientific Integrity

AFGE Council 238 Ratifies 14 Crucial Contract Articles for 8,000 Scientists, Lawyers, Engineers, Inspectors

Hundreds of EPA Employees Sign Open Letter Signaling Support for Union as Mediation Begins on Remaining Key Articles

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Nearly 1,000 members of AFGE Council 238, the Environmental Protection Agency’s largest union, signed onto a petition demanding the Agency agree to workers’ key contract demands promoting DEI and scientific integrity and protecting trans employees as the union and agency enter into mediation on December 4.

“We’re putting pressure on the Agency to finally agree to our demands during this mediation process, especially on items like equal treatment regardless of race, gender expression or sexual orientation and scientific integrity so we can get our work done to protect human health and the environment,” said Marie Owens Powell, President of AFGE Council 238. “As we enter into an election year, we need to ensure our ability to protect human health and the environment is preserved no matter who is in power.”

If an agreement is not reached after two weeks of mediation, unresolved contract articles will go to the Federal Service Impasses Panel. 

Monday’s letter is one of several through which AFGE members have taken the unusual step of bringing their demands directly to EPA Administrator Regan to highlight the urgency of the issues in their ongoing negotiations. Members of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives on several occasions have also publicly urged Regan to ensure a fair contract that will allow the agency’s workforce to meet the climate emergency moment we are in.

As the EPA seeks to hire 1,800 workers over the next year, it is essential that a strong contract is in place to ensure the Agency can build out the diverse, skilled workforce needed to do the important work of combating climate change and supporting affected communities. 

In addition to the outstanding articles headed to mediation, AFGE Council 238 also announced the ratification of 14 key contract articles, including dues deduction, leave and overtime. 

Workers Fight to Prioritize DEIA, Trans Rights

Commitment from the EPA to building a diverse, equitable workforce and a safe, inclusive environment is a crucial sticking point for the 8,000 workers at the Agency. Prioritizing DEIA is necessary to ensure that all EPA employees are treated with dignity and respect, and that the Agency grows its workforce without bias. It is crucial that the Agency prioritizes building a diverse, supportive workforce to achieve the nation’s climate goals.

“Our union has made every good faith effort to come to an agreement around the DEIA article of our contract. The union proposed inclusion of a DEIA article in our contract because we know that EPA employees deserve established policies that protect their equal rights, and the union wants a role in ensuring that the Agency follows through on these commitments.  This is of great interest for the EPA employees who work so hard to protect human health and the environment. Their eyes are upon us,” said Joyce Howell, AFGE Council 238 Executive Vice President.

The DEIA provisions AFGE Council 238 is calling for in their contract are focused on eliminating implicit racial bias in the hiring process, providing DEIA training for employees, and accountability for working towards DEIA goals, among others.

What’s more, transgender EPA workers need more than a performative gesture – they need the same guaranteed rights as their colleagues.  Diversity of experience is crucial to running an effective federal agency. Workers are calling on EPA to sign a contract that includes rights for trans employees.

Background on AFGE Council 238’s Fight for a Fair Contract

With temperatures reaching record highs and a growing need to address natural and man-made climate disasters including floods, wildfires, and toxic waste spillage, elected officials are demanding the EPA come to the table to ensure it can attract and retain a top-notch workforce. As EPA workers respond on the ground to these disasters, it is crucial their workforce reflects the communities they serve in order to provide culturally sensitive and efficient relief.

More than 140 Council 238 members participated in a first-of-its kind, months-long process to brainstorm and draft contract proposals. Included are proposals calling for scientific integrity, the restoration of career ladders, competitive wages and benefits to attract and retain expert engineers and scientists, and the active pursuit of a diverse workforce.

Members of AFGE Council 238, representing 8,000 lawyers, scientists, engineers, and enforcement inspectors, among others, began talks with the agency for a new contract more than a year ago in June 2022. 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 elected officials continue to raise the need for expediency in settling a fair contract.