A Scientist’s Testimonial for Unionization

I’ve been a scientist in industry, government and academe. In all three settings I’ve seen how having the protection of a union works, not only for job security, but in defense of scientific integrity.


As a graduate student/instructor, I experienced the lack of a union’s presence in that workplace by way of discriminatory policy in work assignments and compensation. Later, after retiring from government (USEPA) as a university chemistry professor, lack of union protection led to forced retirement, even in the face of excellent student evaluations of my teaching. The real reason for leaving that position was my anticipated publication in the peer-reviewed literature of information about the risks associated with the principal chemical used to fluoridate water supplies…the university employing me had received a large grant from the Oral Health Division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, apparently with the stipulation that I be gone after that academic year.


After grad school I worked as a research chemist in industry for 16 years, then got into the environmental side of the business. My quite visible outside work with the environmentalist community freaked out management, and I was ordered back to the research bench – no union to fight for me over that retaliatory action. I left shortly afterward for EPA.  


That’s all the bad news. The good news is about my experience as a union organizer and leader at EPA. I am one of eight charter members of the union (at first, Local 2050, National Federation of Federal Employees; now Chapter 280, National Treasury Employees Union) that represents scientists, engineers and other professional employees at EPA headquarters.


Our union was the driving force behind EPA’s finally promulgating its Principles of Scientific Integrity (after battling the issue for 13 years). We defended the Senior Toxicologist in the Office of Water after he was fired for – as the Administrative Law Judge ruled in the successful lawsuit that followed – refusing to remain silent about fluoride’s ability to produce bone cancer.  We defended a Pesticides Office toxicologist during his struggles to have honest science applied to the toxicity of malathion. We fought for removal of carpet that had injured EPA workers in their offices – and later affected national policy on that subject….all under protections granted us a union officials.


There were many, many other instances of our union defending  EPA employees, and – ultimately – the public for whom we worked. A website was created recently by my union brother, Dr. Bob Carton, and I that details some of our work and why we did it. It expressly explains why we chose to organize a labor union rather than a professional association, or something similar that would have had no legal clout. The site remains a work-in-progress, with more examples of our professionals’ union’s successes. Our website had over 6500 visits in April. Come take a look.


– J. William Hirzy, PhD