Energy & Environment

Democrats urge Biden administration to back EPA union in contract negotiations

Michael Regam
Anna Rose Layden
EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan speaks to reporters during a press conference announcing a series of actions to secure environmental justice for all Americans at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, May 5, 2022.

More than 80 congressional Democrats on Monday called on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan to back the agency’s union in contract negotiations. 

The American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, the biggest union representing EPA members, is in negotiations with agency management for a new contract, with its current contract set to expire in 2024. 

Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), chair of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, led a letter to Regan, which was first reported by The Washington Post.

Among their demands is the addition of so-called blind hiring practices, or the removal of personal information from applicant resumes. Advocates say the practice prevents any unconscious biases from affecting the hiring process. 

It also backs EPA employees’ call for wages to match their workloads. 

“For example, according to several of our constituents who are currently EPA employees, they are stagnating at the GS-12 level, while completing the work of a GS-13,” they wrote. “The practice of keeping employees at a GS-12, with pay and benefits of a GS-12, will only risk draining the EPA’s workforce as employees seek better opportunities with room for growth in the private sector.” 

Signers of the letter include members of the party’s progressive wing with a history of backing labor rights, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). However, it was also signed by moderate Democrats such as Reps. Tim Ryan and Shontel Brown of Ohio. 

President Biden has vowed to be the “most pro-union president” in history, and organized labor has frequently pressed him to hold to the promise. Earlier this month, the administration mediated negotiations with rail carriers and railroad worker unions, who reached a tentative agreement the day before they were set to strike.  

In February, Biden signed an executive order aimed at making it easier for construction workers to unionize by increasing the federal use of project labor agreements, or collective bargaining agreements between federal contractors and unions.  

“We will review the letter,” an EPA spokesperson told The Hill in an email. “EPA’s unions are central to a thriving workforce and the agency is committed to a positive and productive working relationship with our union partners.”

–Updated at 2:55 p.m.

Tags Bernie Sanders Biden Diana DeGette Environmental Protection Agency EPA Joe Biden Michael Regan Paul Tonko

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