Many of us take for granted that EPA is a good place to work. But most of the benefits today were not always in place. The benefits were hard fought by NTEU and its predecessors. Your union negotiated many of those benefits including, but not limited to, an indoor air quality agreement, alternative workspaces for chemically-sensitive individuals, establishment of child care facilities, changes in the smoking policy, compressed and flexible schedules, reduction-in-force protections, fitness centers, as well as transit subsidies. Every day the union fights to prevent encroachments on these important benefits and to give you additional rights.
In 1981, with an administration expected to be hostile to both employees and the environment, a group of EPA professionals including toxicologists, chemists, biologists, attorneys and other environmental professionals came together to jointly fight anti-environment and anti-federal employee efforts. Those union pioneers believed that EPA's mission and ability to accomplish that mission were in danger, as were EPA workers.
The goals of our early union organizers were to encourage professional ethics, professional development, sound science for EPA policy decisions, and ensure protection of all professional workers. Those forerunners wanted to ensure that all of us were able to do our jobs without facing political retribution for important work.
Some years prior to creating a professional union, EPA headquarters workers voted to organize with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 3331. Professional employees, however, with their independent vote under federal labor law, voted against organizing. Despite this anti-union vote, by 1984 those same professionals felt sufficiently threatened to change their minds. In 1984 EPA professionals reconsidered and voted to join — by a 90-percent majority — the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE), then chartering Local 2050 at EPA Headquarters.
Challenges with NFFE began in the early 1990s, however, with the retirement of the longtime NFFE president, Jim Peirce. NFFE National Presidents elected after 1990 were subjected to election challenges before the Labor Department, and charges brought before the National Executive Council. NFFE financial crises ensued and EPA’s chapter began to resent interference in chapter operations by the NFFE national office.
By 1994, chapter members attempted to leave NFFE to form an independent, environment-oriented union, dubbed Environmental Employees Collectively Organized (EECO). But before those members could carry out the necessary procedures to replace NFFE with EECO, NFFE put the chapter into trusteeship in September 1994. The elected officers were removed and replaced by a trustee appointed by NFFE. That arrangement proved unsatisfactory to EPA professionals, and eventually to NFFE itself, as the NFFE budget crisis of 1995 appeared on the horizon. NFFE National then restored the removed officers, finally ending the trusteeship in the Spring of 1996 as the budget scare came to an end.
The chapter was thereafter courted by several major national unions, but the National Treasury Employees Union’s (NTEU's) stability and reputation as a law firm masquerading as a labor union, won the chapter’s hearts and minds. In February 1998, the chapter voted to change affiliation from NFFE to NTEU. In April that year the Federal Labor Relations Authority granted the chapter’s petition to become NTEU Chapter 280. Simultaneously, NFFE Locals in Region 4 and Cincinnati switched to NTEU, becoming NTEU Chapters 281 and 279, respectively.
On November 13, 1986, NFFE Local 2050 signed its first Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with EPA. That contract was then unique in creating a Labor-Management Committee (LMC) that met weekly to solve employee problems through dialogue and cooperation whenever possible. NTEU renegotiated the CBA with the agency over the years, each time gaining additional rights and benefits for professional employees. The current collective bargaining agreement was ratified by all EPA chapters on September 4, 2015 and became effective about a month later on October 8. It includes a number of improvements including fulltime telework and gliding schedules, to name but a few.
If you would like more detail about unions at EPA or our Chapter's history, please visit epaunionhistory.org, a site put together by a couple of EPA retirees. Any opinions expressed on that site are that of the site's creators and do not necessarily reflect the views of current Chapter leadership.