Employees At a Small Agency Trump Wants to Abolish Move Toward Unionization

The Chemical Safety Board, which is on Trump's chopping block, investigated the April 2013 fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. The Chemical Safety Board, which is on Trump's chopping block, investigated the April 2013 fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. Charles Dharapak/AP file photo

Employees at the Chemical Safety Board are voting this month on whether to unionize and join the American Federation of Government Employees in an effort to protect themselves from alleged efforts to cut telework, changes to some people’s job classifications and the Trump administration’s repeated proposals to shutter the agency.

CSB employees successfully filed a petition to organize with the Federal Labor Relations Authority earlier this year. Ballots were mailed to workers earlier this week, and the election will run until May 1.

Peter Winch, special assistant to the District 14 national vice president at AFGE, is helping with the unionization effort. He said one of the primary reasons CSB employees decided to unionize was President Trump’s repeated plans to abolish the agency in his congressional budget requests.

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Additionally, efforts to curb the agency’s telework program and to reclassify attorney advisers, who do a mixture of accident investigations and legal work, as simply investigators, also played a part in the decision to hold a union drive.

“Employees approached us and are concerned about the future of the agency, with the Trump administration putting them on the list of agencies to be abolished,” Winch said. “They’re also concerned about changes in flexibility of working, where telework and alternative work schedules are being taken away, especially from working mothers. And there are several—six—with an attorney adviser title where the CSB is attempting to abolish that title . . . They’re trying to take away their attorney duties.”

The Chemical Safety Board is made up of 40 government positions, including management and political appointees. If employees approve the formation of a union, the agency’s collective bargaining unit would consist of 22 employees.

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Officials with the agency declined to comment for this story.

If successful, AFGE would bring CSB employees into Local 2211, which includes a number of small agencies, including the National Transportation Safety Board. Winch said that although there have been some complaints regarding how management has responded to the unionization effort, he could not say whether it crossed the line into retaliation.

“The agency was very cordial with me when I’m with dealing with them,” he said. “[Some] employees have raised concerns to me about how individual supervisors reacted to the union drive, and some of that is normal. People get nervous. So I’m trying to figure out what we’re dealing with, whether it’s normal jitters or if there’s really retribution going on.”

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