The Environmental Protection Agency has cut off negotiations with its primary union and informed the labor group it will unilaterally implement a new contract, stripping away many of the rights and privileges employees currently enjoy and setting up yet another legal battle between the Trump administration and the federal workforce.
The new, one-sided agreement is set to go into effect on July 8 and severely limit telework, evict union representatives from agency office space and restrict employees from filing a grievance over disciplinary actions, among other changes. EPA blamed the American Federation of Government Employees for the unilateral implementation of the new contract, telling the union its refusal to open up the entire agreement to negotiation required the agency to take action on its own.
The dispute follows an ongoing pattern in the Trump administration, which has frequently butted heads with unions across government. Representatives of employees at the departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs are all fighting their agencies’ efforts to curtail negotiations or otherwise limit unions’ power. Trump previously attempted to cripple federal employee unions through an executive order, but a federal judge largely struck it down. The administration is currently appealing that decision.
A senior career EPA official told Government Executive the negotiations trace back to 2010, when the agency first came to AFGE to reopen its 2007 agreement. After a series of back and forth discussion, and what the official described as “delay tactics” by AFGE, EPA filed an unfair labor practice with the Federal Labor Relations Authority in late 2016. The two sides agreed to restart negotiations as part of a settlement agreement reached in 2017, but they could not agree on ground rules. While EPA characterized the recent spat as part of an ongoing nine-year dispute, AFGE suggested the provisions of the new contract mirror those contained in Trump’s executive orders.
Under the new contract, employees can only telework once per week. All staff must report to their duty stations four days per week, so anyone on an alternative work schedule would be effectively barred from teleworking. The agreement would change EPA’s performance assessment for bargaining unit employees, making it easier to place them on a performance improvement plan and subsequently fire them.