Illustration: Chelsea Beck (G/O Media)
For employees who’ve spent decades working for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Trump administration is like nothing they’ve ever seen before. That’s exactly why—for the first time ever—the agency’s union employees have authored a Bill of Rights to set the agency back on track to meet its mission.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) began organizing EPA staff in the 1970s. Since then, the roughly 8,000 employees protected under the union have never felt the need to issue a Bill of Rights. After all, the EPA’s mission is simple: protect human health and the environment. It shouldn’t need reminding of that, right?
Well, these days it does. Many employees don’t agree with the direction the agency has taken under Trump as leadership pivots the EPA to rolling back regulations that will make pollution worse. They also don’t support the tactics the administration is using to prevent employees from doing the work they’ve been doing for years.
Since 2018, the administration has issued executive orders and directives that undermine workers’ rights by limiting the amount of time they can spend on union responsibilities and making it easier to fire them despite their union protections. A judge deemed these orders illegal in 2018, yet EPA leadership again tried to alter the workplace culture through directives last year. As EPA workers entered renewed union contract negotiations with management in December, they came ready.
EPA employees launched a campaign called Protect EPA in tandem with their Bill of Rights push. In many ways, it highlights how connected the Trump administration’s attacks on public health and the environment and civil servants are.
These types of protections could help gird the agency’s civil servants from the frequent political attacks. Trump ran his campaign on promises to “get rid of it in almost every form.” Since then, he’s done his best to follow through.
For example, the agency has historically allowed its employees to work from home and has been pretty flexible about work schedules, Danita Yocom, the vice president of AFGE Local 1236 in San Francisco and an attorney at the EPA, told Earther. In addition to giving workers flexibility, it also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions from commuting. Now, the agency allows only one teleworking day a week.
“That’s time I could’ve been getting work done the entire morning, and I’m not able to do that now,” Yocom said. “It’s not really working well for families, and it doesn’t really work well for getting the work done, either.”
“We really do want to see the agency focus on climate. We really want to see the agency make its decisions based on science,” Yocom said. “We really want the agency to continue environmental enforcement. This is really the first time we’ve come to this point where we feel we need to speak out in this way.”
“That’s why we want a hate-free and safe workplace,” he said. “We’re fighting for our rights.” MORE