EPA Attempts to Bust the Union In 1987 Charles Grizzle became Assistant Administrator for Administration and Resources Management. October of that year saw the first installation of toxic carpet, with all the consequences of that action, including the union’s attempts to protect the public as well as EPA employees from that hazard. The union had been negotiating over a code of professional ethics since the fluoride fight had started some time previously, and by the Spring of 1988 we were nearing agreement (see below in Collective Bargaining). When the union asserted its right under the Clean Air Agreement to be involved in the investigation and remediation of the carpet crisis, and the implications of EPA union scientists doing so under an ethical mandate codified by another collective bargaining agreement became apparent to OARM, Mr. Grizzle ordered a halt to further talks on ethics.
An open war appeared inevitable between the union, which demanded that workers be able to do environmental protection work in an ethical work place, and an Administration bent on frustrating that goal.
EPA hired a “union buster” consultant to advise Mr. Grizzle on how to put a tight muzzle on the union.
As the turbulent events of the carpet crisis unfolded, the union had five virtually full time officers at work, plus others of the officer corps devoting a major fraction of their time to the issue. When the Carpet Policy Dialogue began to take the larger part of Bill Hirzy, the union President’s time, and the needs of injured employees were at a peak, and the Crystal Mall asbestos contamination bruhaha was in full flower, the union requested bargaining on a new arrangement for official time for union officers.
Up to that time, time allotted by management for union work had been on a “reasonable time” basis. Based on the then current work load and precedent at other NFFE Locals, the union wanted six full time positions. Management, at Mr. Grizzle’s direction asserted that the union’s use of official time to serve on the Carpet Policy Dialogue and to respond to inquiries from the public about our experience with toxic carpet, the fraudulent science supporting EPA’s fluoride drinking water standards, its refusal to require flammability warnings on pesticide aerosol cans, and similar matters was non-negotiable and thus illegal.
In a negotiations meeting, Grizzle’s minions theatened Bill Hirzy with prosecution under 18 U.S.C. Section 205 for using official time to benefit non-governmental interests, and they said they would give the union official time work hours equivalent to less than 0.75 of a person-year. At that, Hirzy exploded with, “You want a war with the union, we will give you a war with the union! Other nearby management types rushed into the room, and the war between Grizzle – as EPA management – and the union began in earnest.
Meanwhile, a reign of terror was brought against the Union, reaching its peak in 1991-2. The President was reassigned to work for which he was not trained (see above Flammable Aerosol Propellants). The Treasurer was fired . Union-filed grievances were routinely ignored, and in the home branch of the President, every single union member was under some sort of harassment or trumped up disciplinary action.
At this point it became necessary to reach out to citizens for help, to in essence, exercise the union’s two strong arms.
The union fought back. (All of this was happening during the First Iraq War – also known as Operation Desert Storm) Knowing that EPA management can ignore comments from citizens, or simply respond with a form letter, and that management cannot ignore correspondence from U.S. Senators and Representatives, the union opened “Operation Shit Storm.”. We sent letters OSS Request for Help Letter to everyone who had ever contacted us for help or advice or information on how we had handled indoor air quality problems, toxic carpet injuries, pesticide problems, and the fluoride ethics battle. The union asked people across America to write to their Congressional delegations, to Administrator Thomas and to Assistant Administrator Grizzle. We asked citizens to have their Congressional delegations in turn write to Administrator Thomas and Assistant Administrator Grizzle, and asked that they contact their friends and environmental network allies to do the same. We wanted all these citizens, who had experienced the union’s members actually doing first hand work on their behalf, to inquire of Congress and the Administration why Mr. Grizzle wanted to kill the union. The union itself reached out to Congress.
Here are examples of how Grizzle dealt with the blizzard of correspondence. Hundreds of letters resulted, flooding the West Tower and requiring answers. Here are examples of the kind of response HUD Council Support the public made to the union’s request, along with EPA responses and letters from Congress on the subject Health Freedom News Article
Meanwhile, during the Reign of Terror, Local 2050, with the magnificent support from Charles Bernhart of NFFE’s National Office, filed and won a negotiability appeal with the Federal Labor Relations Authority on use of official time for “matters that were in the public interest.”
Within a few months Mr. Grizzle had resigned, and his successor, Christian Holmes, declared his belief in the sanctity of good science and ethics at EPA as well as good labor relations. In 1992, the union got a new official time agreement granting four full-time positions plus 2000 hours for other stewarding work, a suitable office and equipment to operate it. Our sister union at Headquarters, AFGE Local 3331 got five full-time positions and similar office concessions. We think, in retrospect, that our sister unions across the Agency got similar benefits….or should have done. Included in the agreement was a provision, sanctioned by the Federal Labor Relations Authority, specifically authorizing the union to use official time to communicate with the public and media on terms and conditions of employment – a first in Federal sector labor history. This war between the union and management was over.