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EPA union calls for 'moratorium' on plans to reopen offices

EPA union calls for 'moratorium' on plans to reopen offices
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A union for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees is asking the agency to halt its plans for reopening its offices, arguing the coronavirus spread is too unpredictable

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) has asked EPA “to place an immediate moratorium on reopening any regional office until the impacts of the COVID-I9 pandemic are more predictable.”

EPA employees are currently going into the office on a voluntary basis, but the agency is currently evaluating how to transition to having employees back in the office.

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Some offices could be reopening as early as this month, a move that comes too soon, AFGE wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Haaland reportedly recommends full restoration of monuments Trump altered | EPA to reinstate air pollution panel disbanded under Trump | State appeals court upholds approval of Minnesota pipeline EPA to reinstate air pollution panel disbanded under Trump Overnight Energy: EPA to reconsider Trump decision not to tighten soot standards | Interior proposes withdrawal of Trump rule that would allow drillers to pay less | EPA reverses Trump guidance it said weakened 'forever chemicals' regulations MORE.

“This plan does nothing to help reopen the economy, but instead simply requires employees to crowd onto public transit and self-screen as they enter office buildings to essentially telework remotely at their desk,” the letter states. 

“Without a national testing strategy and widespread testing, a key piece is missing for our understanding of how and where the virus is spreading,” it continued, noting different states' reopening plans as well as how protests against the killing of George Floyd may spur an uptick in cases.

EPA said employees will retain maximum telework flexibility and will not be forced to return to the office.

“We are encouraging employees to continue to telework, even in the first phases of reopening. The Administrator talks directly to the employees and does not need to speak through the unions,” the agency said in a statement.

But the union fears there is no way EPA can meet Centers for Disease Control guidelines on maintaining a healthy workspace in the time of coronavirus.

“Taking one step forward, two steps back, is playing a callous game with people's lives — it simply isn't prudent to rush to reopen offices when the stakes are so high,” the letter said.