In a huge victory for federal government workers, economists, researchers, analysts, and other employees at the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) on May 9 voted overwhelmingly to join AFGE, the largest union representing D.C. government and federal employees nationwide.
ERS Employees cheered and high-fived each other after the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) announced the results of the election: out of 204 eligible voters, 138 voted yes and 4 voted no.
“This election is important because we’ve faced a lot of new policies in this administration that have made it hard to do our jobs,” said an employee who asked not to be named. “And with the continuing pressure and the continuing change in direction for us as a scientific and research agency, we want a voice at the table. We want a way to make our concerns heard.”
AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. welcomes the ERS employees into our AFGE family.
“I am proud to welcome our sisters and brothers at ERS into our union family,” he said. “Just like we have been standing up and fighting back against numerous other anti-worker proposals from the Trump Administration, we will join these employees in fighting against efforts to relocate them and politicize their research.”
The newly unionized ERS employees will join AFGE Local 3403 at the National Science Foundation. Local 3403 already includes other scientists and grant writers at the U.S. Geological Survey, National Endowment for the Arts, and National Endowment for the Humanities.
The overwhelming vote to join AFGE reflects employees’ concerns over working conditions and the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to relocate the ERS office to a location outside Washington, D.C., a move many see as a retaliation for their science-based research that contradicts the administration’s position on various issues including climate change and taxes.
USDA on May 3 announced the top three locations being considered for the new location, which is set to happen this summer. Besides relocating the ERS, the administration is also moving the agency out from USDA's Research, Education, and Economics (REE) mission-area and into the Office of Secretary (OSEC), where it will be subject to political influence. The plan to make ERS a part of OSEC will jeopardize its ability to continue to provide fact-based policy analysis.
“We’re going to challenge everything,” said Peter Winch, special assistant to AFGE District 14 National Vice President Eric Bunn. “ERS employees will be heard in the halls of Congress and in the streets of D.C. if necessary.”
In addition to the ERS, the Trump administration is also trying to relocate another USDA research agency: the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). NIFA employees are seeking to join AFGE. Their union election is set for June 11.
The FLRA will issue a certificate of representation in about five days. With their newly formed union, workers now have the right to meet with ERS leadership, and will be pressing for a delay and reconsideration of the relocation decisions.
Employees not on the “stay” list may also want more than 30 days to decide if they want to relocate. They may want ERS to pay for a scout visit so people can look for housing and at schools and such, as well as pay for the move itself, which is normal for federal employees relocating for work.
The ERS currently leases space for around $5 million, as does NIFA. Any lease larger than $3 million should be subject to review by the General Services Administration, but USDA may be attempting to avoid that review, which could potentially be grounds for a lawsuit.
ERS employees and our union will also be asking Congress to stop USDA from moving appropriated funds to pay for the relocation, since funds have not been directly appropriated for that purpose.