By Sarah Gonzalez, Director of Communications and Digital Media
Employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) voted May 9 to unionize, in response to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s plan to move ERS and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) out of Washington, D.C.
The vote brings ERS into the American Federation of Government Employees, which already represents more than 100,000 USDA workers nationwide. The federation would negotiate on behalf of 214 economists, analysts and other ERS employees as the department continues its relocation process. NIFA employees also are planning to unionize.
Congressional Democrats, former ERS and NIFA administrators, and groups including the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA) and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition have criticized Perdue’s proposal to move ERS and NIFA offices.
“Because the long-distance relocation of any agency incurs significant costs and performance losses due to employee attrition, such relocation is an inappropriate use of taxpayer resources if not strongly justified by an objective and rigorous benefit-cost analysis,” stated AAEA in an April letter to congressional appropriators.
USDA announced on May 3 the finalists for new ERS and NIFA locations. They include Indiana, the Greater Kansas City, Mo., region and North Carolina’s Research Triangle area.
“Relocation will help ensure USDA is the most effective, most efficient and most customer-focused agency in the federal government, allowing us to be closer to our stakeholders and move our resources closer to our customers,” Perdue said in the announcement. “Our commitment to the public and our employees is to continue to be transparent as we proceed with our analysis.”
Two other locations – St. Louis, Mo., and Madison, Wis. – remain under consideration if the top three ultimately are not selected, USDA said.
Meanwhile, demonstrating their legislative power to block the moves, leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said Perdue needs to send them more details to justify the relocation before they’ll approve lease proposals for the new locations.