Municipal Government

AFGE Testifies at Congressional Hearing on Employee Morale

August 3, 2015
By Tara Jessup

Washington, DC –  AFGE Council 238 President Karen Kellen testified July 29th before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform regarding the current state of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s workforce, and the retaliation and harassment that some employees have faced from management.

Kellen's testimony strongly emphasized that management "bullying" of rank-and-file employees is having a serious impact on staff retention and morale, in turn negatively impacting the agency's mission. By respecting employees' rights and holding management accountable for creating negative work environments, Kellen argued we can build a more efficient government workforce.

"When bullying behavior is accepted and tolerated within the management structure of an organization, one might expect that some employee would adopt that 'acceptable' behavior in their approach to the public," said Kellen. "If we want a more civil federal government, then we need to start treating all of our federal workers with respect and dignity."

Kellen also suggested that management engage with the union on issues affecting employee morale before they become a problem, and build a culture of cooperation and accountability, rather than opaque and adversarial.

"Managers need to listen for the rumblings of a workforce. People talk. Workplaces talk. One just has to listen and sift through the grumbles and the difficult people, to hear when a manager is causing a stir in the workforce. Frequent departures of employees from a particular unit is a good sign that there is a problem with a manager. The union can be a great asset within an organization, because we hear the rank and file employees' concerns first hand."

Kellen urged the committee to recognize and address the problems of mismanagement in the EPA without penalizing the employees and civil servants working in the department, and to find ways of recreating a culture of respect for all government employees.

"The employees of the EPA do not make policy. They are regular Americans doing their jobs and caring for their families. When the rhetoric about federal workers as lazy, unproductive or unresponsive to the public is tossed about without consideration to the men and women who labor for the government, it demeans and demoralizes employees. Please do not paint all federal workers with the brush of a few problem employees. Federal employees deserve the respect of this nation, not its scorn. They are what keeps this country working day in and day out."

*** AFGE Council 238 President Karen Kellen is a 24-year member of the American Federation of Government employees, and has worked as a staff attorney for the Environmental Protection Agency since 1987. She is based in Denver, CO.

August 3, 2015

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