Inside the Fishbowl was the newsletter of NFFE Local 2050, which the union began publishing – (first, by posting on bulletin boards!) in 1985. Gradually as the union became better established as a force within EPA headquarters we began distributing desk-to-desk, and finally won the right to have it delivered to all members of the professional bargaining unit via the internal EPA mail system.
First several volumes were produced before double-sided, stapled copying was available on EPA copy machines. Individual Fishbowl copies were hand stapled and single sided. (The stapler used during that time is still in possession of JWH.) All of that work was done after or before official work hours and on weekends, because use of “official time” for such activities had not yet been established by contract with EPA management.
The newsletter’s name came from a statement by William Ruckelshaus made early in his second term as Administrator. He was EPA’s first Administrator (12/1970 – 04/1973), and took on his second tour of duty to resuscitate the Agency after the administration of Anne Gorsuch had brought disgrace upon it. Bill’s admonition to the staff was, “We must conduct our affairs at EPA as if we worked inside a fishbowl.”
NFFE Local 2050 adopted that phrase not only is its newsletter’s name, but as its fundamental operating philosophy. The whole Agency, the Congress, the judiciary and the general public would have access to what the Local stood for, what issues it took on, and how it performed. During its early years the union send copies to other labor organizations…within government and in the private sector. We have included a link to one of the responses we received from NFFE Local 1827 after sending the March-April, 1992 issue to that union.
Also we include a link to the very first report from NFFE 2050 to its bargaining unit, posted to bulletin boards October 12, 1984…four months after having won our representational election in June of that year by a 90% plurality.
See also: Why We Organized Page
Volume 1 covers Local 2050’s first step out into defining ethical performance by professional employees AND management as a working conditions issue. Specifically it dealt with EPA’s roll back of asbestos regulations under pressure by the Office of Management and Budget after that agency held secret talks with Canadian asbestos mining interests.
It also has our first contact with the issue of shoddy contractor produced “science” in support of a drinking water regulation that had been pre-determined by political pressure on the Office of Water. The regulation in question was the Recommended Maximum Contaminant Level (now, Maximum Contaminant Level Goal), the non-enforceable, health science based standard that protects against any known or anticipated adverse effect on health, for fluoride. The union’s involvement in this issue continued into the 21st Century. The Local was eventually joined by other EPA unions on this subject. See “Fluoride” on the Key Issues page.
Volume 2 reports on NFFE 2050’s first contract with EPA and on continuing work on the asbestos and fluoride issues as matters of working conditions.
Volume 3 marks the first work of the Local on indoor air quality among other representational matters. It was in Fall of 1987 that new carpet began to be installed at Waterside Mall and Fairchild Bldg. headquarters workplaces. See “Toxic Carpet” on the Key Issues page.
Volume 4 reports on the outbreak of serious health problems, especially among Waterside Mall workers, associated with new carpeting.The union was invited to testify before Congress on the carpet issue, and the indoor air problems at EPA were covered by PBS television. This became a very contentious issue with EPA management that resulted in breakdowns in negotiations on professional ethics and compressed work week (CWW). Eventually the latter was settled and agreement was reached between the union and management, although Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response managers tried to deny CWW to their employees. The union fought back. The carpet dispute also led EPA to refuse to distribute Inside the Fishbowl to employees. The union fought back.
Volume 5 reports on invited testimony given before Congress on OMB’s influence, on contracting out professional work, and on Cabinet status for EPA. The Institute for Policy Studies invited the union to speak on its role at EPA, which resulted in a publication in the Environmental Law Reporter titled, “The Other Voice From EPA: The Role of the Headquarters Professional’s Union,” published here on the Why We Organized page. The union bargained alternative work space for employees sickened by carpet emissions and unable to enter Waterside Mall office spaces. Management agreed to remove carpet after results of a health and environment survey are published. Union reported on risk assessment work related to carpet emissions. Media pick up on union activity on carpet and fluoride issues.
In Volume 6 are reports on a survey of employees about a new building for EPA, the union’s intervention to defend program office attorneys in a dispute with the Office of General Counsel, and an end-of-fiscal year threatened furlough of federal employees. The union filed a TSCA section 21 petition with EPA dealing with toxic carpets. This happened after EPA refused to use data it collected on the Waterside Mall experience with carpeting in dealing with the national scale of the problem. The petition was denied and EPA instead set up the Carpet Policy Dialogue, which ran for 13 months. See: Key Issues/ Toxic Carpet page/subpage for much more detail and documentation on that issue. The issue of asbestos in the Crystal Mall-2 work place emerged, and the Roachez cartoon feature made its first appearance. An article titled “Aerosols, Arson and EPA,” was published, as was more on fluoride and cancer.
Volume 7 covers, among other items, diversity and discrimination at headquarters, reports on the Carpet Policy Dialogue, the poem “Below Regulatory Concern,” and management’s attempts to silence or crush or destroy NFFE Local 2050, and how the union fought back, won, drove off the responsible Assistant Administrator, and into the bargain won the four full-time positions in the union office that all subsequent Presidents, Executive Vice-Presidents, Chief Stewards and Senior Vice-Presidents have been able to use to represent headquarters professionals. EPA then granted AFGE Local 3331, representing the non-professional bargaining unit, five FTEs – Local 3331’s bargaining unit was considerable larger than NFFE 2050’s. Details are in Vol. 8. Numbers 5 and 6 of Volume 7 are particularly germane to the union’s fight for survival.
Volume 8 covers details of the union’s win on using 4 full-time positions on official time and its connection with a ruling in the union’s favor by the Federal Labor Relations Authority. EPA’s firing of Office of Water Senior Toxicologist Dr. William Marcus for – as a trial judge later ruled – his opposition to EPA’s ignoring the carcinogenicity of fluoride. Bill sued to get his job back and won. Details and documentation in Key Issues/Fluoride. Carpet Policy Dialogue is critiqued for its strong support of the carpet industry led by EPA’s official representative to the Dialogue. There is more, including documents, on these topics on the Key Issues page.
Vol 9 No. 2 Volume 3 is missing…
Vol 9 No. 8 There was so much news toward the end of 1993 that some confusion in numbering issues and ascribing months ensued. The final article in this issue, “Dietrich’s Law” is a penetrating look at how sweetheart deals between DOJ and companies identified by EPA as egregious law violators was uncovered by Richard Emory of EPA’s Office of Enforcement, with Emory subsequently punished by EPA management. He was subsequently exonerated through efforts of the Government Accountability Project and Local 2050 and became an honored member of the union’s Executive Board. See “Dietrich’s Law” on the Professional Ethics/Scientific Integrity Page.
Vol 9 No.8A This was an especially noteworthy issue of the Fishbowl, containing articles how EPA got to Federal Triangle, Richard Emory’s exoneration, re-inventing government, and upper management’s shallow devotion to integrity, among others.