Several EPA workers, their advocates and union representatives with the American Federation of Government Employees demonstrated outside the agency’s Research Triangle Park offices Tuesday, the first day of key contract negotiations with management.
The union, management and a mediator will try to agree on a contract for the entire agency at the EPA offices in Research Triangle Park over the next two weeks. The discussions have taken on even more importance given President Trump’s proposed 26% budget cut to the agency, announced last week.
Ken Krebs, a chemist who works in the EPA Office of Research and Development, is also the executive Vice President of the local AFGE chapter. “Morale has always been questionable,” Krebs said. But the hiring freeze has hurt the agency’s ability to handle the workload, and the layoffs, Krebs said, have meant the loss of long-time employees and the benefit of their institutional memory.
Congress sets federal employees’ wages, so the negotiations are not about pay. Instead, the bargaining team wants better working conditions for EPA employees. These include “the attacks on science, the gutting of regulations,” said Dan Doyle, Vice President of the AFGE’s Fourth District, which includes part of the Southeast. “And the staffing levels.”
President Trump’s proposed budget would cut EPA’s workforce by 11% over last fiscal year, from 14,172 full-time equivalent positions to 12,610. In 2012, there were 17,000 FTEs at the agency,
This includes whistleblower protections, the protection of scientific integrity in EPA work, the enforcement of environmental laws without political interference, and the right to openly discuss solutions to climate change and conduct climate change research.
Last summer, the EPA abruptly ended negotiations with the union and imposed a “sham” contract on the workers, Doyle said.
The one-sided contract “severely limited telework, evicted union representatives from agency office space and restricted employees from filing a grievance over disciplinary actions,” Government Executive magazine reported at the time. The contractual dispute predates the Trump administration, dating to at least 2010.
Doyle said some EPA managers are also afraid of retaliation by the Trump administration. “My personal belief is that they have no safety if they speak truth to power. If they speak out get fired.”