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Union Organizers Score Another Win at USDA

Staff at National Institute of Food and Agriculture vote 137-2 to join the American Federation of Government Employees.

With the farm community still awaiting an announcement on the location of the planned moves of two Agriculture Department research offices, the staff at one of them voted on Tuesday to unionize and join the American Federation of Government Employees.

The vote by eligible non-management employees at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture was 137-2. It comes a month after staff at a sister office, the Economic Research Service, also voted overwhelmingly to unionize.

“The Trump administration has been working overtime to undermine the invaluable work ERS and NIFA employees perform on our nation’s behalf,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said in a statement. “The proposal to relocate both agencies outside the nation’s capital would upend employees’ lives and could actually impede their work. The workers have spoken with a resounding voice; now it’s time for the administration to listen.”

With a union local in place, NIFA is legally required to notify employees in advance of any proposed changes to their working conditions and to bargain with the union in good faith over those proposed changes, the AFGE explained. In addition, employees in the bargaining unit will gain the legal right to have a union representative present at any meeting in which disciplinary action may result.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue issued a statement saying, “We will work with this group of employees just as we work with all USDA employees. I truly believe that the relocation of ERS and NIFA will help to fulfill USDA’s commitment to be the most effective, most efficient, and most customer-focused agency in the federal government, allowing us to be closer to our stakeholders and to move our resources closer to our customers. Our commitment to the public and our employees is to continue to be transparent as we proceed.”

Rebecca Boehm, economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists—one of numerous academic and advocacy groups that oppose the office moves as disruptive—said, "USDA employees are rightly frustrated by the lack clarity and transparency throughout the relocation process. Hopefully, unionizing will give them a strong voice moving forward and allow them to get back to producing vital research for farmers and consumers."

Image via Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock.com.