EPA employee protests union contract while receiving award from Admin. Wheeler

EPA employee protests union contract while receiving award from Admin. Wheeler

An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employee protested the agency’s new union contract while receiving an award from Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerIt's time for Congress to address the 'forever chemical' crisis Trump administration plans to reduce pesticide testing on birds Overnight Energy: Harris goes after DOJ antitrust probe of automakers over emissions | Trump on energy-efficient light bulbs: 'I always look orange' | Climate change only briefly discussed in third presidential debate MORE on Wednesday. 

Loreen Targos, an EPA employee in Chicago, unfurled a banner on stage next to Wheeler reading, “I care about EPA workers having a fair contract to address public health and climate change. Do you?”

Targos was on stage with the rest of a team being honored for cleaning up refinery waste near Muskegon Lake in Michigan. 

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In a video released by American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 704, based in the Great Lakes region, Targos can be heard asking Wheeler if he supports a fair contract for EPA workers. 

EPA employees have been outraged by a recent contract that went into effect Tuesday that remains unsigned by union leaders and scales back union protections. 

In an interview with The Hill, Targos said Wheeler did briefly respond to her. 

“I did look at him and ask him and ask if he was going to support a fair contract and he said something along the lines of agency talking points of ‘We tried to come to the bargaining table but you guys refused.’”

The fight between the EPA and the union began over how much of the contract was even negotiable. The EPA wanted to renegotiate the entire contract, while the union wanted to renegotiate a narrower slice.

Under the latest contract, union employees would have to give up office space within the EPA offices and union leaders would not be able to use the intranet or agency billboards to communicate with members. It would also limit the amount of time union leaders could spend helping rank-and-file employees with labor disputes and other issues by 75 percent. It also changes how employees can arbitrate their grievances.

Targos said the new contract was “unilaterally imposed.” The AFGE has already filed an unfair labor practice charge against the EPA.

“There was all this pomp and circumstance to highlight the good work of EPA employees,” Targos said. “Why take away the conditions that supported such award-winning work?”

The EPA said it issued the new contract after years of fruitless negotiations.

“Administrator Wheeler was proud to host the National Honor Awards ceremony for the first time in 10 years and recognize the outstanding achievements of more than 700 EPA staff,” a spokesman told The Hill. “This collective bargaining agreement (CBA) expired 12 years ago, the Trump EPA has worked with AFGE for the past two-and-half years to reach a new CBA and EPA is not the party refusing to come to the negotiating table.”

Targos said a security officer stopped her later and asked if she was actually an EPA employee.

“When I said yes he asked if I was really here to receive an award for that team and if I had just snuck on stage, so I said, ‘Yes I was in that group and supposed to get an award with that team,’” she said.

Targos said she was hoping to get more of a response from Wheeler.

“There’s always a part of you that hopes they will be better than what they say about them in the media, and it’s a sad thing to always be disappointed and realize, 'Oh you’re as bad as they say you are.'”