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EPA union has 'no confidence' in agency's plan to reopen during pandemic

EPA union has 'no confidence' in agency's plan to reopen during pandemic
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The union for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees slammed the agency's reopening plan, arguing it will fall short of keeping workers safe amid the pandemic.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) executive board for the EPA union voted unanimously over the weekend that they have no confidence in the EPA’s ability to protect employees as they return to their offices.

The union’s leadership criticized “EPA’s determination to force workers back into EPA facilities for no mission-driven reason, despite agency employees successfully tele-working for months during the pandemic. Unnecessarily forcing EPA workers into offices will inevitably result in the spread of the virus, illness and possibly death,” the union said in statement.

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The EPA has reopened many of its offices across the country, with employees allowed to return on a voluntary basis. 

The agency is evaluating how to transition to having employees back in the office, but it has had to delay the reopening of some offices due to the coronavirus, including its headquarters in Washington, D.C.

“Reopening decisions are determined with the help of career EPA scientists and by examining guidance and orders of local and state officials. Five of our facilities remain in COOP status (mandatory telework). The remaining facilities are in phase 1 or phase 2. In both phases, the Agency encourages maximum telework,” said EPA spokesperson James Hewitt by email.

Just five EPA offices mandate telework, while 41 are in phase one and 78 are in phase two.

During phase one, workers could begin to return to the office in person if they choose and in phase two workers, even those teleworking, must return to normal work hours except for those who have "dependent care issues."

The AFGE union has repeatedly fought the EPA’s plans to return to the office. In July the union called for a moratorium on reopening plans.