EPA Staff Clap Back at Trump with Workers' Bill of Rights

by Robert Verchick
Katie Tracy

January 22, 2020

It's no secret that President Trump has harassed staff at federal agencies since his first moment in office. Days after his inauguration, he blocked scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from talking to the press and the public. He famously cracked down on federal labor unions and chiseled early retirees of their expected pension benefits. Now he's requiring hundreds of staff from USDA's Economic Research Service and the Bureau of Land Management to leave their homes in the Washington area and move to offices out West or risk losing their jobs.

The administration has been particularly disdainful of the professional staff at the EPA – the people who work every day to make sure you can take a dip in the lake, fill your lungs on a morning walk, or drink from the tap without some nagging fear of toxic contamination. Environmental science was one of the first targets of Team Trump, as the gag rule noted above illustrates, and the administration has continued its broadside on science at the EPA in other ways, too. According to a recent exposé in the New York Times, "In addition to shutting down some programs, there have been notable instances where the administration has challenged established scientific research."

The trouble goes beyond the lab. Last June, Trump's EPA bosses surprised everyone by cutting off contract negotiations with the staff's union, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). The leadership team instead imposed its own unilateral agreement, which was decidedly stacked against everyday workers, limiting telecommuting, slashing onsite union representation, and hobbling the worker-grievance process. 

But this time, EPA's staff clapped back.

With the support of AFGE, EPA workers pressured Trump's team back to the bargaining table. And in conjunction with renewed talks, they have just launched a "Protect EPA" campaign that includes an "EPA Workers' Bill of Rights." The bill of rights, according to the union's press release, is "designed to embrace science, bolster working conditions, and deliver a fair contract for the nearly 8,000 EPA workers represented by AFGE."

The bill of rights includes 10 provisions:

  • The right to scientific integrity in EPA work
  • The right to enforce environmental laws without political interference
  • The right to a fully funded EPA budget and full staffing levels
  • The right to an end of lockouts caused by government shutdowns
  • The right to work on control of greenhouse gases, to discuss solutions to climate change, and to conduct climate change research
  • The right to whistleblower protections
  • The right to work-life balance that fosters productivity and sustainability
  • The right to a fair contract that is collectively bargained
  • A right to a hate-free and safe workplace
  • A right to protect human health and the environment, to protect environmental justice communities, and to work without fear of reprisal

The staff at the EPA are some of the most resourceful, dedicated, and caring people you will ever meet. We know that because our advocacy at CPR brings us in regular contact with agency officials of all kinds. One of us (Rob) was lucky enough to work with them as a political appointee at the EPA during the Obama administration. At every meeting, it seemed like everyone was the smartest person in the room. "We are scientists, we are public information officers, we are enforcement personnel," agency members write in the bill's preamble. Yes, and school volunteers, and softball coaches, and local choir members, and doting grandparents, too. The people at the EPA have had our backs for nearly 50 years. It's time for us to return the favor.

To join EPA in its fight to protect the environment and public health, you can sign the Workers' Bill of Rights petition here.

Top photo by the Natural Resources Defense Council, used under a Creative Commons license.

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Also from Robert Verchick

Robert R.M. Verchick holds the Gauthier ~ St. Martin Eminent Scholar Chair in Environmental Law at Loyola University, New Orleans, is the Faculty Director of the Center for Environmental Law at Loyola, and is a Senior Fellow in Disaster Resilience Leadership, Tulane University. He is the President of the Center for Progressive Reform.

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