AFGE Scores Major Contract Victory for EPA Employees

The Trump administration has waged an all-out assault on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees and public health: silencing researchers, rolling back more than 90 environment and human health protection rules and regulations, and cutting agency staffing to the lowest levels since 1985.  

Almost a year ago, the administration also trashed EPA employees’ union contract and unilaterally imposed its own anti-worker rules on 7,500 employees. AFGE forced EPA management to return to the table after filing unfair labor practice charges and grievances over the agency’s decision to repudiate our previously negotiated contract. 

During recent contract negotiations, AFGE negotiators pushed back against the agency’s anti-worker proposals and scored improvements in all 13 articles negotiated. This has resulted in a new five-year contract that strengthens employee rights, improves health and safety, and more. Employees earlier this month ratified the contract, avoiding having the management directive imposed on them for seven years.  

However, the union and the agency could not reach an agreement on two articles: negotiated grievance procedures and official time. These articles are going through impasses proceedings and will be decided by the Federal Services Impasses Panel (FSIP).  

Here are the 13 improvements we won in the new contract: 

1. Employee rights 

These issues were not part of the management directive, but the new contract includes language for: 

  • Treating employees with respect 
  • A workplace free of harassment & discrimination 
  • Employee rights under statutory law 
  • Prohibited Personnel Practices 
  • Preventing the agency engaging in Union animus and recording of protected activity 
  • Rights to obtain information 

2. Health and safety in the workplace 

This issue was also not covered under the management directive, but the new contract requires the agency to provide personal protective equipment (PPE), indoor air quality testing, access to Safety Data Sheets, employees’ participation in immunizations programs, and AFGE notification of and the right to accompany inspectors. It also provides for AFGE participation on Health and Safety Committees at national and local levels. 

3. Work schedules 

The management directive gave supervisors complete and unreviewable discretion to set and approve work schedules. The new contract includes more flexibilities in work schedules: 

  • Extension of core hours 
  • For Maxiflex schedules, core hours don’t apply on second Friday of pay period 
  • Work schedule decisions by management are grievable and arbitrable 
  • Minimized formerly required multiple documentations/permissions required for schedules 

4. Telework 

The management directive gave management complete and unreviewable discretion over telework and limited regular telework to one day per week. But under the new contract: 

  • Employees are allowed regular telework of up to two days per week 
  • Holidays and travel days do not count against telework days 
  • Telework decisions can be grieved and arbitrated 
  • No request for telework will be unreasonably denied and supervisor must provide reasons for denial of telework in writing 

5. Use of facilities 

The agency had ordered the union to vacate all union offices and refused to allow the union use of any and all agency equipment. The new agreement allows reasonable use of conference and meeting rooms without need for agency approval, use of internal agency communications services, agency equipment such as computers, scanners, copiers and bulletin boards, an Intranet page for Union use, and storage space for each union local.  

6. Union rights 

There was no Union Rights article in the imposed agreement. The new contract outlines multiple rights under the Federal Labor Relations Statute, such as the right to form, join or assist any labor organization freely without fear of penalty or reprisal; the right to represent members in Weingarten and investigatory meetings, as well as the right of union representatives to attend employee orientation meetings. The language clearly prohibits the agency from interfering with, restraining, or coercing employees in the legitimate exercise of their rights as union representatives. 

7. Dues deduction 

The management directive required the same dues amount across all locals and allowed the agency to automatically cancel a member’s dues deductions without their consent.  

The new contract returned authority to set dues to members of each local. Members can voluntarily drop union membership anytime after being a member for one year. Between 24 months to 48 months after contract in effect, either party may reopen the Dues Deduction article if law or guidance changes on membership cancellation after members’ first anniversary date. 

8. Duration 

The management directive imposed a 7-year contract term and imposed future bargaining rules that were harmful to union. The new contract shortened the term to 5 years. After 2 years, either party can reopen up to 2 existing or new articles. 

9. Leave 

Only Section 1A of the article was open for negotiation. The contract now lists examples of “extenuating circumstances” – serious and exceptional factors outside one’s control – and allows the employee to contact the supervisor as soon as practicable if the employee cannot contact the supervisor prior to start of the tour of duty. 

10. Position description and classification 

The management directive did not mention this issue, but under the new contract, position descriptions (PD) must be provided and will normally be uploaded to the employee’s Electronic Official Personnel Folder. The agency proposed that the employee had to ask for a current PD. The agreed language makes it an affirmative requirement that agency update and provide PD. The agency is required to amend or rewrite permanent changes when changes are made as a result of reorganization or if OPM standards are changed. 

11. Career ladder 

Initial agency proposals had no responsibilities for supervisors. The new contract requires supervisors to discuss job requirements and expectations with employees. It also requires timely supervisory decisions and feedback to employees. 

12. Awards 

The management directive did not cover this issue, but the new contract requires that the Awards Board include an AFGE representative. If Regions establish a local Board, AFGE is invited and can provide input. The agency must provide amounts and allocation of awards and employee awards information will be provided monthly. 

13. Alcohol and drug-free workplace 

The issue was not covered in the management directive, but the new contract requires the agency and employee responsibilities, outlines random testing procedures, methods and procedures for testing. confidentiality and safeguarding Information. It provides for counseling services for employees and families at no costs, and the agency is not required to discipline employee who self-reports addiction/problem. 

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