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EPA, Union Reopen Negotiations After Agency Implements Unilateral Contract

Although the agency has promised to bargain “in good faith” with AFGE officials, the contract that evicted labor representatives from agency office space and gutted telework will remain in effect.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the American Federation of Government Employees reached a settlement Thursday under which the agency will return to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, in exchange for the union dropping its pending grievances and unfair labor practice charges regarding the July unilateral implementation of a new contract.

In June, EPA management announced that it would cut off negotiations on a new union contract with AFGE and implement a new contract unilaterally. That contract severely limited telework, evicted union representatives from agency office space and restricted employees from filing grievances over disciplinary actions, among other changes.

Last month, an investigator with the Federal Labor Relations Authority found that this decision violated federal labor law, although without a general counsel at the agency, the case cannot be taken up by the FLRA board.

The settlement stipulates that among the subjects for negotiation are official time, union use of agency facilities, grievances, leave and telework. EPA also agreed to negotiate about a number of provisions from the previous agreement that were removed from the unilateral contract, like union and employee rights, career ladder promotions and awards.

The document sets a deadline for the end of negotiations of April 15, 2020, unless a topic for negotiation is part of a negotiability appeal to the FLRA or part of proceedings before the Federal Service Impasses Panel. EPA also agreed not to enforce a provision of its unilateral contract to establish a “single dues rate.”

In a statement, AFGE National Secretary-Treasurer Everett Kelley hailed the news, but noted that the saga is far from over.

“Thanks to the activism of our members and support from so many lawmakers, we have forced EPA back to the table to negotiate a new contract,” Kelley said. “This is a major breakthrough, but we must not become complacent. We are fighting an uphill battle against an administration that wants to strip workers of their rights and make it harder for employees to do their jobs. We must keep up the pressure on EPA management to ensure they stick to the agreement and bargain with us in good faith on a contract that adheres to the law and equips employees with the resources and support needed to carry out their vital mission.”

In an email to agency employees, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler acknowledged the completion of the settlement agreement.

“Today, we reached an agreement in which the union would withdraw pending litigation over the July implementation, and the parties would return to the bargaining table,” Wheeler wrote. “The parties will negotiate matters important to our employees, including telework, work schedules and leave . . . The agency remains dedicated to bargaining in good faith with its unions, and looks forward to sitting down with AFGE in the coming weeks and months to complete negotiations in a timely manner, to benefit our employees and the American public.”