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With new ‘imposed contract,’ Trump’s EPA tries to neuter worker rights

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

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.

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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.

“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.

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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 EducationHealth 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.”

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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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Trump wasn’t the first president to confront the Supreme Court – and back down

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A key presidential election is approaching. The U.S. Supreme Court hears a case with powerful political implications. The court rules, but the populist president doesn’t care. Our national commitments – to the Constitution, to morality, to the rule of law – seem at risk.Then, the president backs down. The nation survives.

This might be the story of President Trump’s short-lived threat to get a citizenship question on the census in defiance of the Supreme Court. Instead, it’s the story of President Andrew Jackson and Worcester v. Georgia, decided in 1832.

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Fatal drug overdoses drop in US for first time in decades

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Fatal drug overdoses in the US declined by 5.1 percent in 2018, according to preliminary official data released Wednesday, the first drop in two decades.

The trend was driven by a steep decline in deaths linked to prescription painkillers.

"The latest provisional data on overdose deaths show that America's united efforts to curb opioid use disorder and addiction are working," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said, though he cautioned the epidemic would not be cured overnight.

The total number of estimated deaths dropped to 68,557 in 2018 against 72,224 the year before, according to the figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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Judge blocks effort to conceal details in Trump campaign crimes case as Bill Barr’s DOJ mysteriously closes the probe

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A federal judge confirmed on Wednesday that the Justice Department has ended its investigation into campaign finance crimes committed by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, indicating that no one else will face charges in the case. But Judge William Pauley also announced that, over the government’s objections, he will be making many of the underlying documents in the case public without requested redactions.

The case stemmed from Cohen’s efforts during the 2016 campaign to secure hush money payments for two women who said they had affairs with Donald Trump. Since investigators determined these payments were done in order to help secure Trump’s victory, the spending counted as campaign contributions that were never recorded and were, in fact, illegally concealed. The Trump Organization, Cohen has said, helped repay him for the costs of the hush money while disguising the payment falsely as a legal retainer.

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