Union says EPA refuses to renegotiate 'imposed' contract, despite push from federal regulators

Union says EPA refuses to renegotiate 'imposed' contract, despite push from federal regulators

Union leaders say the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is refusing to go back to the bargaining table with employees after a federal union regulator said the agency may have violated the law by imposing its latest contract on workers.

In June, the EPA rolled back the union protections offered to its employees, informing them in an email that it would implement a new contract that remains unsigned by the union itself — a move the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) has been fighting all summer.

AFGE argued it was illegal to "impose" a contract.

This week the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) sided with the union, which had filed an unfair labor practices charge arguing the EPA violated the law, a claim FLRA said had merit.

“We now have a third party backing up what we’re saying, that their conduct violated the law,” said Cathie McQuiston, deputy general counsel for AFGE, which represents 8,000 EPA employees.

The authority proposed a settlement agreement that would require the EPA abide by a 2007 union contract while agreeing to go back to the bargaining table to negotiate a new deal.

But AFGE representatives said the EPA informed them they do not plan to sign the agreement proposed by FLRA. 

A spokesperson for the EPA said it "will not comment on matters related to ongoing litigation."

A refusal to go back to the bargaining table would likely anger EPA employees, some of whom have made public protests of the latest contract, including one who was receiving an award from EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy & Environment — American Clean Power — Supreme Court to review power plant rule case EPA to consider tighter air quality standards for smog Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels MORE.

EPA and the union disagree over how much of the 2007 contract is even up for renegotiation.

EPA officials previously told The Hill they put the current contract in place after the union walked away from negotiations that had been dragging on since 2010. 

The settlement agreement proposed by FLRA would require the agency to restore union rights that the June contact eliminated. It would also require them to post a notice pledging to not interfere with employees' bargaining rights.

“They don’t want to do the posting that says there was a finding about what they did,” McQuiston said, nodding to the latest contract, or agree to revert to the old one.