EPA and its largest union entered mediation Monday to hammer out a contract that could cement protections for agency staff long after President Joe Biden leaves office.
American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, which represents about 8,000 EPA employees, has pushed for provisions to promote diversity and champion scientific integrity in its collective bargaining agreement with the agency. Those articles and others are now under mediation, an expedited process intended to reach resolution between the two sides.
The stakes could not be higher for the EPA union. Its next contract will carry past the next presidential election and could serve as a bulwark for thousands of staff if a Republican administration takes charge and tries to tear down the agency.
“We’re putting pressure on the agency to finally agree to our demands during this mediation process, especially on items like equal treatment regardless of race, gender expression or sexual orientation and scientific integrity so we can get our work done to protect human health and the environment,” said AFGE Council 238 President Marie Owens Powell in a statement.
Powell added, “As we enter into an election year, we need to ensure our ability to protect human health and the environment is preserved no matter who is in power.”
“The EPA is committed to maintaining a transparent and cooperative relationship with our union partners,” EPA spokesperson Remmington Belford told E&E News. “The agency will continue engaging with union partners on open articles.”
Joyce Howell, executive vice president for the council, told E&E News that starting Monday, the union entered into mediation with EPA over 11 of the contract’s articles. Those include provisions dealing with scientific integrity and diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility as well as the agreement’s career ladder and discipline process.
“The union proposed inclusion of a DEIA article in our contract because we know that EPA employees deserve established policies that protect their equal rights, and the union wants a role in ensuring that the agency follows through on these commitments,” Howell, also the union’s chief negotiator, said in a statement.
“This is of great interest for the EPA employees who work so hard to protect human health and the environment. Their eyes are upon us,” Howell said.
Time is now running short. If EPA and AFGE cannot reach agreement after two weeks of mediation, unresolved articles will go to the Federal Service Impasses Panel, according to the union.
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