News Releases

Senator Murray and Representative Jayapal led the Washington state Democratic delegation in expressing concern to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about Seattle-area workers being forced to return to their office despite the health risks 

The lawmakers pressed EPA to take proper precautions to protect worker safety, and pushed the agency to bargain with the local employee’s union regarding health and safety measures

Lawmakers: “…[T]he Federal Government must act as a model employer and has a responsibility to uphold the rights and protections of the individuals it employs” 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Led by U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA, 7th), the Washington state Democratic congressional delegation today sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler questioning why Region 10 employees are being forced to return to their Seattle office for work despite the significant and continued health threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawmakers also pressed Administrator Wheeler to engage with the EPA Region 10 employee’s union, the American Federation of Government Employees Council Number 238, regarding health and safety measures and ensure that the concerns of Region 10 employees are addressed. Senator Murray and Representative Jayapal were joined on the letter by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), as well as Representatives Rick Larsen (D-WA, 2nd), Derek Kilmer (D-WA, 6th), Adam Smith (D-WA, 9th), Suzan K. DelBene (D-WA, 1st), Kim Schrier, M.D. (D-WA, 8th), and Denny Heck (D-WA, 10th).

“Washington state has continued to see high rates of infection throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, making ensuring the health and safety of workers transitioning back to in-person duties of the utmost importance. Additionally, the Federal Government must act as a model employer and has a responsibility to uphold the rights and protections of the individuals it employs, including faithfully discharging its obligations to bargain with any union those employees chose to join. The issue presented here touches on both of those concerns,” the lawmakers wrote.

The lawmakers continued: “We urge you to exercise your authority at EPA in a safe and diligent manner to meaningfully address the concerns of Region 10’s employees. Our nation stands at a unique moment in time and previously mundane acts of simply going into a public building can now have profound repercussions. Failing to bargain with your own employees is a step in the wrong direction at any time, but particularly now.”

The EPA recently announced its intention to begin the process of reopening its Region 10 physical office in Seattle, despite the continued high rates of infection in Washington state and the fact that King County had not yet been cleared for full Phase One reopening when the decision was announced.

Read the full letter below or HERE.

June 10, 2020 

The Honorable Andrew Wheeler

Administrator

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20460

Dear Administrator Wheeler:

We write to express our concerns regarding the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to reopen its Region 10 office and begin a “phased” return of employees without a clearly articulated plan to provide for worker safety. Washington state has continued to see high rates of infection throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, making ensuring the health and safety of workers transitioning back to in-person duties of the utmost importance. Additionally, the Federal Government must act as a model employer and has a responsibility to uphold the rights and protections of the individuals it employs, including faithfully discharging its obligations to bargain with any union those employees chose to join. The issue presented here touches on both of those concerns.

The State of Washington has now begun its Safe Start reopening plan, which mandates specific protective measures to ensure both employee and public safety depending upon a county’s specific data. On June 5, King County was cleared to enter a modified Phase One reopening. The requirements of Phase One reopening prioritize health and safety and serve as a guide to guarantee a responsible transition back to some semblance of normalcy. Any reopening must be conducted in a manner consistent with public health expertise and local and state guidelines, laws, and regulations. To date, EPA has detailed no specifics concerning its planned regional reopening efforts.

Additionally, we are troubled by reports that EPA is refusing to bargain with its employee’s union, the American Federation of Government Employees Council Number 238, over health and safety measures. That a Federal Agency would refuse to bargain with its employees over such a core matter as employee health and safety is itself alarming, but when the agency in question is one charged with guaranteeing the health, safety, and protection of our environment, it is especially worrisome.

We urge you to exercise your authority at EPA in a safe and diligent manner to meaningfully address the concerns of Region 10’s employees. Our nation stands at a unique moment in time and previously mundane acts of simply going into a public building can now have profound repercussions. Failing to bargain with your own employees is a step in the wrong direction at any time, but particularly now.

Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

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