EPA details plans to restore collective bargaining with largest employee union

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The Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to restore collective bargaining, office space and official time with its largest federal employee union.

The agency struck an agreement with the American Federation of Government Employees, which describes the steps it will take to rescind three executive orders from former President Donald Trump and comply with new mandates from the Biden administration.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order back in January, which repealed his predecessor’s workforce policies and restored official time and collective bargaining practices.

Under a new memorandum of understanding between EPA and AFGE, the two parties have agreed to temporarily adopt a select number of provisions from its 2007 collective bargaining agreement.

The agency will, for example, allow the union to use EPA office space. It will also revert back to previously-agreed to policies on grievance procedures, evaluating employee performance and official time.

EPA’s 2020 agreement with AFGE limited the union to one hour of official time per bargaining unit employee per year, which was consistent with Trump’s previous executive order. AFGE represents about 7,500 EPA bargaining unit employees.

Under the 2007 agreement, EPA granted union representatives a “reasonable amount” of official time for specific purposes. The union council’s president and executive vice president were allowed to spend 100% of their work hours on official time, according to the 2007 contract.

These 2007 policies will remain in place until both EPA and AFGE reach a new collective bargaining agreement.

An EPA spokesman confirmed the agreement, which goes into effect Wednesday. He said it complies with the guidance the Office of Personnel Management released to agencies in early March, which called on agencies to quickly identify and then revise or rescind any actions they may have taken in the last few years to implement the Trump workforce orders.

“Going forward, the parties have agreed to pursue partnership opportunities to enhance working conditions and further collaborative efforts towards improving the labor management relationship,” the EPA spokesman said in an email to Federal News Network.

Current EPA policies on telework and work schedules will remain in place for now, though the agency and union have agreed to revisit these topics in upcoming term negotiation. EPA is continuing maximum telework policies for now.

Over the course of the next two weeks, EPA and AFGE plan to review the rest of the 2007 contract to determine which provisions may be out of date or need revision.

“The purpose of this review is to determine which articles/sections from the 2007 agreement will continue in effect on an interim basis until a new term agreement is negotiated,” the MOU reads. “Any union employee representatives who engage in this review will be on official time.”

The parties will meet with a mediator in two weeks time to discuss their findings. Once the agency and union finalize the topics they plan to address in an interim agreement, EPA and AFGE will begin three months of term negotiations.

Both parties also agreed to attend collective bargaining training.

“This interim agreement restores employees’ right to full representation at the work site and will make it possible for employees, through their union representatives, to resolve any issues they encounter,” said Gary Morton, president of AFGE Council 238. “This is a huge step in the right direction, and the union won’t stop fighting until we eliminate all of the anti-labor provisions forced on us by the previous administration.”

EPA imposed a series of bargaining proposals on AFGE back in 2019. The union said it never agreed to those provisions and filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the agency. The two parties eventually returned to the bargaining table later in 2019 and negotiated a new contract last year.

The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents a smaller number of EPA professionals, had asked the agency in January to temporarily suspend negotiations so the parties could revisit bargaining proposals that conflicted with Biden’s executive order.

“EPA informed us recently that it agreed to do so, and we are pleased that new leadership at EPA is taking this important step to rebuild a positive and collaborative relationship with its frontline employees and their union,” Tony Reardon, NTEU’s national president, said. “We look forward to returning to good faith bargaining at EPA, where employees have a meaningful voice in their workplace, their rights are protected and their work is valued.”

The EPA is the latest agency to announce its plans for implementing the president’s January executive order.

The Department of Veterans Affairs informed AFGE of its plans to comply with the order last month, though it’s unclear whether the two parties will reengage in new collective bargaining negotiations.

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