The public sector collective bargaining ordinance expected to pass October 19th in Fairfax County is potentially the most damaging local issue of this term. It will divert millions of dollars to legal administration instead of toward competitive compensation for County employees, while raising your taxes, impacting the quality of public services, and reducing the transparency of your local government.
At the public hearing on October 5th, over 60 people testified, many were union members that are opposed to this ordinance because although they support collective bargaining, the proposed ordinance language provokes serious concerns. I fundamentally do not support collective bargaining, but if the ordinance is going to pass, we need to at least take the time to get it right and listen to our community.
Many County workers shared concern that the process for drafting the ordinance was rushed, non-transparent, and only included the feedback of more powerful (and coincidentally well-funded) unions. Parameters in the proposed ordinance limit the voices of County employees at the bottom and set no limitations on union outreach to protect worker privacy. Former Supervisor John Cook testified that the ordinance as it stands is subject to legal challenge for breaching Virginia state law. The message was loud and clear at the public hearing; this ordinance will serve only certain unions, not most County employees, and there’s still a lot to work out.
This ordinance will require the County to negotiate with public employee unions on everything from pay and benefits to discipline and working conditions. While the Board’s ordinance does not include teachers, it is likely the School Board will adopt a similar ordinance as it has already included positions for collective bargaining in its 2022 budget. Instead of your elected officials representing you, it will bind their hands for consolidated union interests to drive local policy.
Unlike private collective bargaining, these unions won’t be asking for more from a multi-million-dollar company, they’ll be asking for it out of your taxes. This could mean an increase of hundreds of dollars on the taxes of the average resident – not to mention increases from rising real estate tax assessments, a declining commercial tax base and the other multi-million-dollar projects the Board has made priorities over the interests of our employees and taxpayers.
To attract the best employees and provide residents the best services, we must offer competitive pay and benefits (we already have an above market pension plan) and we can accomplish that without collective bargaining. I have been advocating for years to raise teacher, not administrator, pay as well as police pay. We have historically had issues in those pay areas and that translates into retention issues. If competitive pay was a priority for this Board, they would have done it already instead of prioritizing exorbitant new programs.
If this passes, the officials meant to represent you at the bargaining table have an inherent conflict of interest. The current Board (not counting the School Board) has received around half a million dollars in campaign donations from unions. Every Board member except me has received a donation from SEIU, a national union heavily influencing this ordinance.
Smaller unions have largely been ignored in the drafting process. You, the taxpayer, have been left out entirely until the public hearing. Roughly 80 percent of the County workforce is unaffiliated with a union and haven’t indicated if this is even something they want. Which begs the question, why are we doing this?
Public collective bargaining is new to Virginia, only recently enabled by the General Assembly without guidance on infrastructure or funding to set up the multi-million-dollar team of lawyers and administrators to make sure the process is “fair.” But while Virginia is moving full throttle into what legal experts have called “the wild west” of setting up this process, other parts of the country are harrowing examples of how it can wreak havoc on a community.
Wisconsin got rid of public sector collective bargaining back in 2011, recovered from a $3.6 billion budget deficit and saw a surplus without raising taxes. New York has the highest tax burden in the country – it also has one of the strongest unionized public worker bases and bargaining agreements. Look up the infamous “rubber rooms” they set up because they couldn’t get rid of bad teachers. If you’re still not convinced, check out California, Washington, New Jersey, and Michigan to see if those are the kind of public services or taxes you want.
Public collective bargaining, especially as the ordinance stands now, will only serve big unions while you foot their bill and receive less effective government. Make no mistake, these national unions with local chapters are experts in this complex legislation, most locals are not. You can imagine who will get the better deal.
I fundamentally do not support public collective bargaining, but if the ordinance is going to pass, we need to at least take the time to get it right and listen to our employees and community. I urge you to reach out to your Board member before the vote on October 19th or email the entire Board at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Pat Herrity, Springfield District Supervisor