Union looks to set scientific integrity principles in EPA contract
- By Lia Russell
- Jan 23, 2020
On Dec. 5, the American Federation of Government Employees picked up contract negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency after a favorable ruling from the Federal Labor Relations Authority.
AFGE is seeking agency recognition of its 10-point Bill of EPA Workers' Rights, which include the right to scientific integrity and to enforce environmental law free of political interference.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has signed on in support of the rights petition. In an interview with FCW, Dr. Jacob Carter, a research scientist with the Union's Center for Science and Democracy, said that according to the results of a 2018 survey of EPA scientists, 82% of respondents said they had been subjected to some level of political interference at work that hindered the work they did.
"There is lots of scientific information being censored that typically is climate change information," Carter said. "Any sort of [information about the] connection between climate change and it being human-caused is typically censored. The right to scientific integrity is incredibly important to safeguarding the EPA workforce but also the communities that these scientists serve."
EPA maintains that current workforce policies already uphold the scientific integrity that the Bill of Rights is looking to maintain.
"EPA has established, and continues to promote, a culture of scientific integrity for all of its employees," an EPA spokesman said in a statement. "This policy provides a framework intended to ensure scientific integrity throughout the EPA and promote scientific and ethical standards. The policy allows for perceived misconduct to be reported for investigation."
"EPA and AFGE are continuing to bargain and will be negotiating a number of articles, which include both employee’s rights and union’s rights," the spokesman continued.
Bethany Dreyfus, the president of AFGE Local 1236 in San Francisco, said the administration’s attacks on science have demoralized current employees and made it difficult to recruit workers.
"It's be a real challenge to retain folks over the past few years and also recruit folks, especially in areas where it's particularly expensive to live," Dreyfus told FCW. "There's a real issue with bringing people in to live in expensive areas at the same time when there’s attacks on our ability to telework and have flexible schedules."
Some of those workplace benefits are under discussion. Previously, EPA had tried to impose new conditions on unionized workers, leading to the FLRA ruling.
Dreyfus, who is a lawyer within the EPA regional counsel office, said there were fewer workers on hand to do vital work such as conducting inspections and enforcing environmental regulations.
"It's really very clear to us from the attacks on science and our enforcement the value that's being put on our work," she said. "The [EPA Workers'] Bill of Rights is a chance to come forward as civil servants and say, 'This is why we're here, we know what the country expects us to do.' It's a statement of our values."
Many in Congress have weighed in. Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.), along with a dozen House representatives, signed onto the petition in support of the EPA Workers' Bill of Rights.
"It sends a message to the administration that at the negotiating table, bad faith arguments will not be tolerated," Dreyfus said.
Lia Russell is a former staff writer and associate editor at FCW.