Letter to EPA Leadership Regarding DEIA Proposals

Dear EPA Leadership,

AFGE Council 238 is writing to share our concerns regarding your decision yesterday to declare an impasse while bargaining the article in our union’s contract related to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA). This stands in stark juxtaposition to the Agency’s presentation today of its DEIA plan.

Commitment from the EPA to building a diverse, equitable workforce and a safe, inclusive environment is a crucial sticking point for our 7,700 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. We are facing down the most critical moment in history tackling climate goals and protecting vulnerable communities, and we need a diverse, supportive workforce to achieve these goals.

As I have often remarked, EPA has demonstrated through its own data that the Agency has fallen behind on diversity initiatives. EPA has acknowledged diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible workplaces yield higher-performing organizations. Today at the DEIA plan presentation, Janet McCabe explained that she “[doesn’t] think we can protect the human health and environment if we do not represent the people of this country.” The time for quantification of EPA’s institutional inequity has passed.  Now it is time for action.

In June 2021, President Biden issued an executive order calling on federal agencies to advance DEIA within their workforces. Since then, the EPA has had no problem making public proclamations of their commitment to DEIA initiatives and removing barriers to equal opportunity. Just today, during the Agency’s all-hands meeting, we heard many touching stories of management’s awakening to DEIA issues in the workplace. Respectfully, awareness without commitment is meaningless.  Moreover, the fact that these statements came less than 24 hours after the Agency declared the DEIA article at impasse causes me to question whether the Agency will ever progress past those heartfelt words to action on the proposals put forth by our union, proposals that will contractually obligate the Agency  to implement DEIA initiatives into the future.

Without commitment to real action, EPA is on track to fail to live up to its commitments and fulfill President Biden’s executive order. This initiative will become, like so many of its predecessors, a historical document with nice graphics.

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 value DEIA, and the union wants a role in ensuring that the Agency follows through on these commitments. We waited for months for the Agency to come to the table around our most recent DEIA proposals, only to be told abruptly that we are at an impasse. Beyond disappointing, this is catastrophic for the EPA employees who work so hard to protect human health and the environment. Their eyes are upon us.

We call on the EPA to reconsider the following proposals around DEIA initiatives:

  • The implementation of pilot projects to assess the effectiveness of neutral hiring techniques aimed at eliminating implicit racial bias in internal promotion procedures, an issue which was identified by the Agency’s own data.
  • That EPA employees involved in selection and training successfully complete a certificate program on DEIA in the workplace.
  • Installation of gender-neutral bathrooms in all EPA facilities, using language taken from OMB guidance for implementing the President’s executive order for eliminating gender bias in the federal workplaces.
  • That the Agency share with AFGE the DEIA data it gathers under EEOC laws, as well as data the Agency maintains on harassment claims, and meet regularly with the union to discuss trends.
  • That the union participate in the Agency’s DEIA committees to give a voice to employees in matters directly impacting workplace conditions.
  • That accountability for DEIA principles is included in manager performance evaluations to ensure that plans turn into action and achieve results.
  • That the Agency use an independent auditor to evaluate its efforts to incorporate DEIA principles.

All of these are possible. Today I heard the Agency’s aspiration to instill DEIA principles in all of EPA’s work. I challenge the Agency to commit to its workers that these principles will bring visible, tangible, and long-lasting change to the EPA workplace.


Joyce Howell
AFGE Council 238
Chief Negotiator
Executive Vice President