A federal employee union has claimed that a new contract set to be put in place at the Environmental Protection Agency July 8 violates collective bargaining policy and is calling for the Federal Labor Relations Authority to prevent the new rules from taking effect.

The American Federation of Government Employees filed an unfair labor practice charge against the EPA June 25, after the agency announced that it would be unilaterally imposing a new collective bargaining agreement that restricts official time use, evicts the union from agency offices, limits telework to one day a week and would allow management to exclude employees from telework.

“The administration is hijacking the collective bargaining process to enforce illegal provisions that will make it harder for EPA employees to do their jobs,” AFGE Council 238 President Gary Morton said in a statement. “We are going to do everything we can to fight this injustice and defend EPA employees from these baseless attacks on their rights and jobs.”

But according to a senior career EPA official that spoke to Federal Times, the contract dispute between the union and the agency goes back to 2010, when the EPA first notified AFGE that it wanted to reopen negotiations on its master collective bargaining agreement.

The two parties reached an agreement on ground rules for that negotiation in 2013 and came to a final agreement in 2016, according to the official, but AFGE failed to ratify it.

The agency then filed an unfair labor practice charge against the union in the fall of 2016 over the delay in negotiations, and a settlement on that charge was made in 2017.

“As part of that settlement, AFGE promised to negotiate with us without delay and in good faith,” the official said.

The agency then notified AFGE of its intent to reopen negotiations in May 2018, and in early June the union and the agency restarted the negotiation process.

Last week the union filed a grievance “saying we just wanted to negotiate new ground rules,” according to the official. “With those various delays and nine years later, the agency issued a contract this past Monday. Right now, the ball is in AFGE’s court.”

“We don’t think the unfair labor practice is legitimate, we don’t think that it meets the basic criteria,” another agency official said. “It was also filed extremely late when their objection really is going back to May 2018. But we will be submitting a formal response back to the FLRA.”

However, according to the leadership at AFGE, the newest EPA contract is an example of overall Trump administration attempts to reduce the bargaining power of federal unions.

“The Trump administration has shown an outrageous pattern of trampling on federal employees’ rights and ignoring the law to dismantle decades of prior agreements between our union and previous administrations,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said in a statement. “This attack on worker rights is especially egregious at the EPA, where engineers and scientists fight every day to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink.”

President Donald Trump signed three executive orders in May 2018 that targeted federal employee management and collective bargaining, and significant portions of those were struck down by a District Court judge in August of that year.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has also had a tumultuous relationship with AFGE of late over a newly proposed collective bargaining agreement that would restrict union activities and alter management practices.

According to the senior EPA official, the new contract for their agency is simply meant to “bring some efficiency and cost savings to the agency.”

That official added that the new contract also expands some flexibilities for employees that not all agency locations have right now.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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