Washington, DC — A federal arbitrator has found the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guilty of unfair labor practices and acting in bad faith in its national series of library closures, according to a ruling posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). EPA is ordered to bargain with affected public employee unions before making any further changes in its library network.
During the past two years, EPA has closed or reduced access to much of its network of libraries which serve both its own specialists and the public. Altogether, access to EPA libraries in 23 states has been completely lost, and several specialized collections have been shuttered, including its headquarters library.
In his February 15, 2008 ruling, Federal Labor Relations Board Arbitrator George Edward Larney sustained grievances filed by the American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, based in Seattle, on behalf of all affected agency employees. Larney found that EPA acted “unilaterally without the benefit of” employee input in closing or reducing access to seven of the agency’s ten regional libraries across the country. He ruled that –
“…the Agency acted in bad faith in the manner in which it dealt with the Union as it pertained to the implementation of [library closures]…that adversely impacted the working conditions of its bargaining union members.”
The arbitrator heard voluminous evidence as to how EPA scientists, enforcement agents and other specialists are being hindered in doing their jobs due to diminished ability to obtain needed information or secure it in a timely fashion.
“Tellingly, EPA took the position that employee access to information is a management prerogative,” stated PEER Associate Director Carol Goldberg. “At EPA, access to information is an essential tool of the trade, not a privilege that can be arbitrarily withheld.”
The arbitrator declined to order EPA to re-open its closed libraries, but this December Congress ordered the agency to restore the libraries that it shuttered. In late March, EPA is supposed to report to Congress as to how and when it will implement this congressional mandate.
The federal arbitrator also ordered EPA “to engage the Union in impact and implementation bargaining in a timely manner” before taking any other steps in the library network. The arbitrator also retained jurisdiction until all of the underlying issues “are resolved.”
“EPA employees are not the only ones negatively affected by library closures; the public now has a much harder time learning about toxic sites in their neighborhoods, the effects of new chemicals or even their local ecological history,” Goldberg added. “While this ruling is a welcome development, EPA should not continue to shut the public – which is paying all the bills – out of the planning for restoration of these invaluable assets.”