Here is some unmitigated good news about cooperation – Partnership Once Removed, if you will – between the unions and an EPA manager who was my organizational third level boss in the Office of Toxic Substances, Chuck Elkins. Chuck was Executive Director of the Alumni Association in early 2019, and his generous heart led him to this project, where his management skills shown brightly. Here for your edification is how EPA alumni – managers and union representatives – created Operation $hutdown $upport during Donald Trump’s 2019 Lockout (a.k.a. partial government shutdown). This information consists primarily of emails among Chuck Elkins, union representatives and locked-out EPA staff. Chuck’s vision.
On the other hand, see also “EPA Attempts to Bust the Union,” and “Significant Related Documents” under “Key Issues,” for details on the union’s struggle to represent and protect employees, and how the union won four full time positions for officers along with a well equipped office for its operations and similar benefits for its sister union at HQ.
The subject of “Collective Bargaining/Partnership” covers a lot of ground. We began meeting with management shortly after winning our representational election in June 1984. As Bill Coniglio, Bob Carton and I were about to enter John Chamberlain’s (Director of Personnel) office to open contract talks, contract fight John asked, “Tell me, Bill, how do you organize a labor union at EPA?” To which I answered, “Well, it helped to have Anne Gorsuch as EPA Administrator.”
Our Unique First Collective Bargaining Agreement NFFE Local 2050 signed its first Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with EPA on November 13, 1986. The contract was unique in creating, before its time, a Labor-Management Committee (LMC) that met once a week to solve employee problems through dialogue and cooperation whenever possible. Before union-initiated mid-term bargaining became the rule, we were practicing it here. Before Alternative Dispute Resolution became a buzz word around town, we were doing it here. It was through the LMC that the Indoor Air Quality Agreement referenced above was negotiated, The LMC was the venue for negotiating alternative work space for employees who acquired MCS during the carpet crisis, for negotiating establishment of a child care facility at EPA Headquarters, for negotiating changes in smoking policy, for establishing compressed work week and flextime programs, a pilot Flexiplace program, and the Transit Subsidy program at Headquarters. NFFE Local 2050 signed its first Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with EPA on November 13, 1986. The contract was unique in creating, before its time, a Labor-Management Committee (LMC) that met once a week to solve employee problems through dialogue and cooperation whenever possible. Before union-initiated mid-term bargaining became the rule, we were practicing it here. Before Alternative Dispute Resolution became a buzz word around town, we were doing it here. It was through the LMC that the Indoor Air Quality Agreement referenced above was negotiated, The LMC was the venue for negotiating alternative work space for employees who acquired MCS during the carpet crisis, for negotiating establishment of a child care facility at EPA Headquarters, for negotiating changes in smoking policy, for establishing compressed work week and flextime programs, a pilot Flexiplace program, and the Transit Subsidy program at Headquarters.
The 1986 CBA was “rolled over” annually, along with the various addenda Agreements mentioned above, and it remained in effect until another master CBA was negotiated in 1996. That agreement ran for one year, and a completely new CBA that incorporated the addenda Agreements and several new Articles took effect in July 1997. That CBA lapsed in 2000.
The 1994 Congressional elections brought a conservative majority to the House of Representatives under the leadership of Speaker Newt Gingrich. Gingrich and his devotees had campaigned with the slogan “A Contract with America” vowing severe budget cuts and reductions in the federal workforce. “A Contract ON America” was how some saw these proposals.
Our first contract lacked a reduction-in-force (RIF) process. When the budget crisis of 1995-6 loomed after the 1994 Congressional elections and a government shut-down in early 1995, all EPA unions, even those with extant RIF provisions in their CBAs, met in Boston for a marathon twelve day, fourteen hours per day negotiating session to put EPA, its unions and employees in position to deal as humanely as possible with RIFs that looked imminent. Fortunately, through many peoples’ efforts, including union lobbying of Congress and public outreach, we were able to stave off RIFs. The unions worked with management to put an early retirement and buy-out program together that was partly responsible for obviating RIFs. We also fought hard to retain the transit subsidy program at Headquarters during this time, though we did agree to a temporary suspension of the program for a brief period in late 1995 at the height of the budget/potential government shutdown crisis later that year.
During 1997 and through 1998, we, along with other EPA unions, negotiated changes in the Agency’s performance management system as it underwent metamorphosis from the five-level to the so called pass/fail system. We held open meetings and solicited input from the bargaining unit on how to proceed. Eventually, once the new two-level system was in place, we participated in training sessions and we then negotiated the right for employees, through their unions, to have an active role in the awards nomination and evaluation processes that had radically changed under the new two-level system.
One of the new Articles in the 1997 CBA was titled “Professionalism.” That Article was our first success in getting any sort of professional ethics element into our CBA with the Agency. Not that we hadn’t tried earlier. In 1988, as the toxic carpet crisis beginning to heat up, we had reached “Draft No.12” of a code of professional ethics across the bargaining table. But once the full impact of the carpet crisis became apparent to management, we were told that management would engage in no further bargaining on the matter (see Toxic Carpet Page). The issue remained dormant until the 1996 Agreement was up for re-negotiation, when we put it back on the table. While the “Professionalism” Article was a good start, we had a way to go before anything approaching a true code of professional ethics was in place at EPA.
Executive Order 12871 and Partnership In October 1993, President Clinton signed E.O. 12871, (link is below) that directed Executive Branch agencies to form partnerships with their labor unions to promote more efficient government and instructed management to bargain over methods, means and technology of doing work and over the number, types and grades of employees assigned to any work unit or tour of duty. This development got mixed responses from EPA managers. Some managers, especially those who already recognized the benefits of working closely with the unions, took steps to comply with the President’s order. Others – some would say, in true EPA fashion – ignored the President’s order. By early 1994 the Labor Relations Office had begun to try to implement the Order and institute partnership councils (PC) as called for in the E.O. An example of how the Headquarters Partnership Council worked is the Generic Move agreement it developed to apply during reorganizations and other planned moves of Headquarters employee work stations. (see the Professional Ethics/Scientific Integrity Page for more on this)
At the national level, a National Partnership Council (NPC) was constituted from all the local labor unions that represent employees throughout the Agency along with their local corresponding management “partners.” This 40+ member group came to be thought of – at least by the union representatives – as “the herd of cats,” because of the virtual impossibility of getting anything accomplished through consensus in such an unwieldy group After three years of wheel-spinning, and with the arrival of Romulo Diaz as the new Assistant Administrator for the Office of Administration and Resource Management (OARM) in charge of Partnership, things began to change. Under Romy Diaz’s leadership, in December 1998 the National Partnership Council reconstituted itself, and created a ten-member Executive Board consisting of five senior managers and representatives from the five national unions that represent EPA employees.
This ten-member Board was empowered to carry out the NPC’s business throughout the year, based on an agenda set by the full Herd of Cats that met each December. In 1999 the NPC-EB undertook creation of a pilot alternative dispute resolution program and a code of professional ethics. Progress was made on both fronts. Consistency in labor relations regarding overtime policy was another accomplishment, and a program for improving the promotion potential of mid-career employees has also been started and made some progress.
In November 1999 the NPC adopted what became EPA’s Principles of Scientific Integrity (PSI), and in March 2000 Administrator Browner issues a Memorandum to all EPA employees promulgating the PSI.
Browner PSI Memo What was finally negotiated as EPA’s PSI remains (in 2017) a relatively toothless scientific ethics mandate, with no adjudication/enforcement provisions. Compare it with what the NPC started with, Draft #12 of the NFFE proposed Professional Ethics contract article from 1988, the year management stopped bargaining on this subject. (Draft #12 is attached to a copy of the Minutes of the NFFE Local 2050 Executive Board Meeting Minutes of March 1, 1988, which also gives a glimpse of what was going on at EPA HQ that time.)
In January 2021 President Biden tasked the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) with assessing the efficacy of scientific integrity policies across all federal agencies.
In the budget crisis of 1999 and its consequent hiring freeze, the five labor members of the NPC-EB were involved with a senior management team in developing recommendations for the Administrator for dealing with hiring freeze aspects of the crisis.
At Headquarters, the HQPC has existed for five years (written in April 2017). One of the major accomplishments of the HQPC has been an agreement among management, AFGE 3331 and our union simplifying the management and processing of requests of employees to work at alternate sites because of difficulties the employee may have with indoor air quality in their regular work station. We have also begun to dig into problems with movement of most of EPA to the Federal Triangle location, such as changes in child care and shuttle services.
One of the jewels in the union crown was acquired through the negotiation of an agreement under E.O. 12871 between the union and the Office of Pesticide Programs. That agreement codifies OPP’s commitment to appoint a Senior Scientist, at the GS-14 or 15 level in each present and future Branch and Division in which a majority of the staff is classified as physical or biological scientists. Additionally, based on the union’s continuing commitment to the good health and fitness of EPA’s employees, NTEU 280 negotiated with OPP for a new Fitness Center and Health Unit on the third floor of Crystal Mall #2. These new facilities were opened in October 1999.
Another important outcome of partnership at Headquarters was the more meaningful engagement of the unions with management during reorganizations than had been the case in earlier times. One of the major accomplishments of this engagement was negotiating a process for employees to select the work unit, i.e. Branch and Division, in which they would work following reorganization. Processes for this employee self-placement were developed and used during the creation of the new Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance and during major reorganizations in the Office of Policy, the Office of Pesticide Programs, the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics and the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. In most of these instances, over 90 percent of employees were placed in work units they themselves had selected, and provision for adjustments of any mismatches were also features of these negotiated processes..
A Partnership Council was established in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance in 1997, and we looked forward to establishing similar PCs throughout Headquarters.
As it turned out, our hopes about progress under partnership were not always fulfilled, especially after the change in Administrations in 2001.
The link below is an early 2008 statement by the EPA labor unions concerning Administrator Stephen Johnson’s Administration’s (appointed by President G.W. Bush in 2001) reluctance to follow through on commitments to truly partner with them on issues of importance to the unions.18 Unions Complaint. The Administrator’s March 8, 2008 response.Administrator Johnson Response. Another Administrator response to final warnings from the unions about impending withdrawal from the NPC dated May 28, 2008. Johnson on NPC Collapse And the final 21 unions’ withdrawal notice to Mr. Johnson. June 16, 2008, EPA Coalition Letter to EPA Administrator Johnson
(Written in April 7, 2017) One of the most significant developments to come out of E.O. 12871 was the comradeship among EPA’s labor unions and their leaders. Meeting face to face with union sisters and brothers over many years solidified the friendships and a spirit of cooperation among the unions. In September 2003 the Coalition issued a statement condemning White House interference with EPA’s mission to inform the public about health hazards from the September 2001 terror attacks in New York.911 Unions’ Action. Among the other Union Coalition actions was a November 2006 letter to Congress protesting the lack of progress in addressing global warming Union Coalition on Global Warming. When Administrator Johnson denied California permission in 2007 to issue tail-pipe emission standards for the State, the Coalition responded.
Administrator Johnson responded to our complaint.