In spite of massive support, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has deferred on a collective bargaining policy for employees of the county. The ordinance does not currently apply to schools but will likely be adopted by the School board once it’s passed by the Board of Supervisors.
The board held a public hearing on the matter of collective bargaining, if the board were to have made a decision that night it would have necessitated amending Chapter three of the Fairfax County code. This comes after the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill in 2020 which was signed by Governor Ralph Northam which allows local governments and school boards the authority to adopt resolutions or ordinances to allow employees to collectively bargain.
The new law brings collective bargaining back to the Commonwealth for public employees since it was banned in 1977. This would allow employees to negotiate terms of employment with the county regarding issues such as working conditions, pay, shift length, work holidays, discipline, and other related items.
During the public hearing, a collection of various groups rallied outside the Fairfax County Government Center to show their support for collective bargaining. In addition to the Fairfax Education Association and the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers other groups such as NOVA Labor, the NAACP Fairfax Branch, the Catholic Labor Network, among others joined the rally to voice their support for the resolution.
“For decades, county workers have been fighting for a say in their wages, benefits, and working conditions,” said Claire Liu, communications and digital lead of SEIU Virginia 512. “After years of tireless organizing and advocacy, and the end to the ban on collective bargaining on May 1, 2021, Fairfax County workers are close to joining the tens of millions of employees in 47 states who already have collective bargaining rights.”
SEIU Virginia 512 represents Fairfax County general employees which include such professions as nursing, social workers, child educators, mental health professionals, maintenance workers, and more.
If the ordinance as written were to be passed it would set aside $1 million from the Fiscal Year 2022 Adopted Budget Plan for positions within the county to support collective bargaining for employees. These positions would be posted within the county’s Department of Human Resources and the Office of the County Attorney.
Back in the inside at the public hearing, about 60 speakers took the podium to voice their support for the collective bargaining ordinance. Among those who came to support collective bargaining were those who were also concerned with what they saw as detrimental language in the ordinance. According to some of these speakers, the ordinance had very weak protections regarding issues of information privacy, the right to protect anyone who would want to leave a union created under the ordinance, and imbalances of power between union members.
Those concerned with such imbalances proposed the possibility that the members of any union recognized under the ordinance that is a part of management could potentially have more power within that union than those with jobs below them. Concern was also raised about voting within those unions where the ordinance only calls for a slim majority vote in order for a decision to be made.
Those who spoke with concerns of information privacy also claimed that the ordinance would force the county to release information on employees to the union leaders that could potentially be used to press those employees to make decisions in the favor of union leadership.
At least one member of the board of supervisors is not on board with the idea of collective bargaining, that being Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity. In his newsletter from Sept. 30, Herrity describes his opposition to the collective bargaining ordinance on many fronts, outlining potential negative outcomes from the passing of the ordinance which would include increased taxes and costs of services, a reduction in the flexibility of those services, a conflict of interest in using taxpayer money to fund such committees, issues that could potentially harm employees and other smaller unions, and other potential issues.
But the greater conflict of interest is that this board has received nearly half a million dollars from unions. “I was really surprised to learn about how much money this Board has received from the local chapters of national unions advocating for collective bargaining,” said Herrity.
One issue that Herrity led with in his newsletter was the concept of “rubber rooms” in relation to teachers that are in the process of removal for alleged misconduct or poor performance. In his newsletter, Herrity states that New York City has spent more than $65 million annually to pay the salaries of such teachers to stay at home due to being protected by union contracts. Because of that, the removal of such teachers could go on for months or even a decade. However, the current ordinance before the board does not address FCPS employees.
The biggest problem with the ordinance according to Herrity is that most of the decisions made in its regards have been done behind closed doors and out of the public eye. After the hearing, Herrity commented on its results echoing the concerns many made about the ordinance as its currently written.
“I’m disappointed that the board didn’t opt for a transparent, open dialogue at a committee meeting to fix issues with the ordinance as proposed,” said Herrity. I don’t think it’s an ordinance that will help our employees get what they’re being promised.”
The Board of Supervisors is expected to revisit the collective bargaining matter at their next meeting scheduled in two weeks.