An Environmental Protection Agency scientist confronted EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler about agency working conditions and how it is approaching the climate crisis Wednesday morning at an award ceremony in Washington.
“Administrator Wheeler, I’d like to ask you to please support a fair contract for EPA workers,” Loreen Targos, an EPA scientist in the Great Lakes area, is seen saying in a video provided by the union. “Please reward my award-winning labor by negotiating a fair contract.”
Targos was receiving a Silver Medal award on stage at EPA headquarters when she unveiled a banner reading “Care about EPA workers having a fair contract to address public health & climate change, Do you?” She also criticized the agency’s recent unilateral change to the master bargaining agreement with the American Federation of Government Employees, one of several unions representing EPA employees.
Targos said a fair contract is needed to continue research into “fighting climate change.”
This comes on the back of several instances where government workers have spoken out against the administration’s policies, including when employees of the Department of Agriculture turned their backs to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue at a meeting last month in protest of the announced office relocation to Kansas City.
EPA last month told the largest of several labor unions that represent its employees that it would impose a new collective bargaining agreement on its members. Employee advocates said the new contract, which took effect on Monday, severely cut back on employee benefits and that the agency did not negotiate in good faith.
An agency attorney wrote to union leadership that the agency had “unsuccessfully attempted to bring AFGE to the bargaining table” for more than a year.
Asked about the protest, EPA spokesperson Michael Abboud said the contract changes are a result of AFGE’s unwillingness to negotiate.
“This collective bargaining agreement (CBA) expired 12 years ago, the Trump EPA has worked with AFGE for the past two and half years to reach a new CBA and EPA is not the party refusing to come to the negotiating table,” Abboud said.
Targos later told CNN she wanted Wheeler to hear from an “award-winning” employee that workers had no say in the “illegal” contract.
“The working conditions imposed on us in the contract will delimit and subvert our ability to continue to work towards this mission,” she said.
The local AFGE president Nicole Cantello said the union plans to fight against the new agreement in court.
The agency said that Wheeler “was proud to host the National Honor Awards ceremony for the first time in 10 years and recognize the outstanding achievements of more than 700 EPA staff.”