AFGE Local 704 representing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) workers in Region 5 has filed suit against the EPA, seeking documents regarding the agency’s implementation of remote work for the workers.
The EPA is divided into 10 regions with Region 5 being the largest. Region 5 encompasses six states – Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. During the pandemic, Region 5 workers were praised by management, even under the Trump administration, for their ability get the jobs done while working remotely. The employees managed to process more environmental permit applications during the first year of the pandemic compared to a standard year working in-person. While lab testing may require in-person work, many EPA jobs can be accomplished remotely.
But when these employees applied to work remotely again last year, their requests were denied without much explanation. The percentage of denials for Region 5 employees is much higher than those in other regions. Management refused to explain their decision-making process to the union.
As a result, the local filed suit seeking documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in May this year. It requested information about internal remote work discussions, specific denials of remote work for Region 5 employees, and remote work that had been approved for other similarly situated EPA workers.
“We have not received the data we need and to which we are entitled. EPA’s ‘estimated date of completion’ of the most crucial FOIA requests is months away,” said Nicole Cantello, president of Local 704. “Other EPA offices across the country have not been denying remote work requests like we’ve been seeing here in the Midwest.”
“The union originally bargained the right to remote work with EPA to protect members and their families during this pandemic, so we need to understand why the Region 5 management is denying applications and withholding documents that the union needs to examine EPA decision-making on remote work under FOIA,” she added.