Labor & Employment Law Daily AFGE files ULP charge against EPA over allegedly false statements about contract negotiations
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Tuesday, August 18, 2020

AFGE files ULP charge against EPA over allegedly false statements about contract negotiations

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

Among other things, the EPA Administrator falsely claimed that the union had turned down teleworking flexibilities “because they wanted more benefits for union leadership,’” the union alleges.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Federal Labor Relations Authority against the Environmental Protection Agency over what it says are false claims made by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to employees concerning negotiations over a new labor contract covering the 7,500 employees AFGE represents at the EPA. Wheeler claimed that AFGE traded benefits for union representatives at the expense of more generous telework provisions for employees—an outright lie, according to the union.

Administrator’s false statements. During an all-hands meeting on July 28, 2020, Wheeler “falsely stated that the agency had offered more teleworking flexibilities during contract negotiations but that the union ‘had turned that down because they wanted more benefits for union leadership,’” according to the charge. Wheeler next reportedly stated that after COVID-19 was over, he “intended to issue a new telework policy unilaterally, without bargaining with the union.”

Allegedly, Wheeler again repeated the false claim after being confronted by a member of the bargaining team about it. Wheeler also stated that “he intended to release what the agency offered ‘so that everyone could see what the union turned down,’” the charge states. “He also again stated that he will unilaterally reconsider the agency telework policy without the input of union once COVID 19 is over.”

Refusing to deal. The charge further alleges that at an earlier all-hands meeting, on May 21, 2020, in response to a remark by a union representative about the EPA’s exclusion of the union in drafting a reopening plan, Deputy Administrator Doug Benevento “claimed that he had consulted with the union in a briefing and falsely stated that the union … had spoken to the media after his consultation about what he said in the briefing.” According to the AFGE, the “clear implication” is that the EPA was “refusing to deal with the union because it had supposedly improperly shared the agency’s communications with union with the media, despite the fact that such activity is protected by law.”

Interference with rights. The AFGE contends that both of the EPA officials’ statements “interfered with and chilled the rights of employees and union representatives.” Both Wheeler’s and Benevento’s statements “falsely maligning the union were accompanied with threats of penalty or reprisal for the union’s lawful activity.”

Press release. Although not included in the charge, the AFGE also pointed to an EPA press release in which the agency repeated Wheeler’s purportedly false statement about what occurred during negotiations. “During negotiations, EPA offered a best and final deal, which would have given employees additional workplace flexibilities,” the release states. “This was ultimately rejected by the union as they chose to place a higher value on paying union leadership with taxpayer dollars to perform union work and open up new avenues for grievances over EPA employee workplace flexibilities.”

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