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U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan speaks at the White House on May 12, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan speaks at the White House on May 12, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

80+ Democrats Urge Biden EPA to Accept Union Demands

"Improving the rights and protections of EPA employees" will help the agency "address climate change, enhance environmental justice, and protect public health and the environment," the lawmakers wrote.

Kenny Stancil

More than 80 congressional Democrats sent a letter Monday urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to accept the proposals of its largest union—the American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, which represents more than 7,500 EPA workers—amid ongoing contract negotiations.

"At a time when EPA is administering historic levels of funding, it is imperative that EPA's career employees are supported by the agency's political leadership," the lawmakers wrote to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, a former agency employee. "Improving the rights and protections of EPA employees is critical to recruit and retain the talented and diverse workforce needed to fulfill the agency's mission to address climate change, enhance environmental justice, and protect public health and the environment."

"We believe that AFGE's proposal to invest in EPA's workforce is a cost-effective solution that will help employees perform the mission of the agency," the letter continues. "According to AFGE, these investments—such as restoring career ladders, supporting sound science, and increased diversity—come at a minimal cost. However, we have been told that the investments will pay out enormous dividends in attracting and retaining the best and the brightest to fill the ranks of EPA's highly educated, highly trained workforce."

As the Washington Post reported, "The union and its allies are trying to leverage" President Joe Biden's pledge to be "the most pro-union president" in the nation's history—as well as his administration's eagerness to swiftly implement the climate provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act—"to secure its goals at the bargaining table."

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) were among the signatories of the letter, which was led by Reps. Paul Tonko (N.Y.) and Diana DeGette (Colo.). It was also signed by House Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), along with progressive stalwarts such as Reps. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.).

Marie Owens Powell, president of AFGE Council 238, told the Post that she was "thrilled" to have the lawmakers' support. The recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, she added, has given contract talks a stronger "sense of urgency."

"We cannot afford to lose any more of our current workforce," Powell said. "They have the knowledge that we need to pass on to the newer folks coming in with this increase in funds."

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