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With New 'Imposed Contract,' Trump's EPA Tries to Neuter Worker Rights

Agency announces new collective bargaining agreement—which was not agreed upon

The Environmental Protection Agency building in Washington, D.C.

The Environmental Protection Agency building in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The Trump administration continued its attacks on federal workers this week with a new "agreement" that would kneecap the power of unions representing EPA employees.

The development, as watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) noted Wednesday, is a new "Master Collective Bargaining Agreement" between the federal agency and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). Far from an agreement, said PEER, the document is really an "edict."

It was not the result of negotiations.

"In the Trump world, there is no bargaining, only ultimatums," said PEER executive director Tim Whitehouse, a former EPA enforcement attorney.

EPA attorney Robert Coomber announced (pdf) the change in an email to employees on Monday, in which he said the new document was handed down because AFGE wanted to limit the number of potential changes to the existing agreement. The new, non-negotiated agreement, said Coomber, will be effective starting July 8, 2019.

The 75-page agreement (pdf) lays out a number of changes that would limit the union's ability to help employees. As noted by PEER, the new terms would, among other things, require the union to vacate its office space; deprive employees of union grievance and arbitration for terminations, discipline, lay-offs, and a host of other adverse actions; slash the amount and scope of time union officials could spend assisting employees; and deprive union access to websites, agency intranet, and even bulletin boards in communicating with its members.

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"Not only is the Trump White House waging war on environmental protection, rolling back regulations, and gutting enforcement, but is targeting the dedicated professionals laboring through very difficult circumstances within EPA," said PEER Pacific director Jeff Ruch.

Government Executive noted in its reporting Wednesday on the new agreement that it "would change EPA's performance assessment for bargaining unit employees, making it easier to place them on a performance improvement plan and subsequently fire them." It also follows a pattern within the Trump administration, the outlet said. "Representatives of employees at the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Veterans Affairs are all fighting their agencies' efforts to curtail negotiations or otherwise limit unions' power," it noted.

Trump issued executive orders last year attempting to similarly curtail power by unions representing federal employees, but that effort was largely blocked by a federal court.

"Now," Nicole Cantello, union president of AFGE Local 704, told Common Dreams, "the administration, through EPA management, is attempting again to implement key portions of these destructively ambitious executive orders through the collective bargaining process in an imposed contract."

But Cantello is hoping this renewed effort by Trump won't come to fruition.

"We are committed to fighting this imposed contract," she said, "and taking next steps that will prove our hard-won rights can not be swept away."

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