Fairfax County workers seek better pay in light of proposed raises for leaders

Fairfax County Government Center (file photo)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors isn’t holding a public hearing on its proposed salary increases until Tuesday (March 21), but some county workers have already made their opposition known.

A union representing over 2,000 county government employees criticized the proposal as a blow to workers, whose projected pay raises aren’t expected to be fully funded in the county’s next budget.

“Despite our calls for wage fairness for county employees, it appears the County has another priority — raises for politicians,” SEIU Virginia 512 Fairfax President Tammie Wondong said. “A meager 2% raise combined with the crushing weight of wage compression has left us feeling devalued. When employees have to work multiple jobs to get by or can’t afford to live in the county, it’s clear change is needed.”

With 33 years of work for the county under her belt, Wondong says the disparity between what the board is considering for itself compared to employees illustrates the need for “a union contract to achieve pay fairness.”

The Board of Supervisors approved collective bargaining in October 2021, but the Fire and Rescue Department is the only unit to officially elect a union representative so far.

Put forward by Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust on March 7, the raises would push the salaries for board members up from $95,000 to $124,000-130,000 per year and from $100,000 to $140,000-145,000 a year for the board chair.

The high end of those ranges would amount to pay bumps of nearly 37% for supervisors and 45% for the chair. Both positions last got raises in 2015.

Foust, who’s retiring at the end of December, says higher compensation will encourage candidates to run for supervisor, a position that carries full-time commitments but is treated as a part-time job in Virginia.

As I leave, I know it is critically important that we continue to attract great candidates from all backgrounds and stages of life to serve on the Board. The opportunity to serve is itself very rewarding. However, I believe it is in the best interest of the County that Supervisor compensation be set at a level that will enable anyone to serve regardless of their personal circumstances, and not just those who are wealthy or have other sources of income. I believe that increasing Supervisor pay for the first time in 8 years will advance that goal. I recognize that others have raised concerns and I look forward to the public hearing that will be held on March 21.

“I hope that through my service I have demonstrated that I care very much about the residents and employees of Fairfax County,” he said in a statement to FFXnow.

However, the challenge of affording housing, child care and other living expenses that some supervisors mentioned during their March 7 meeting also poses an obstacle to other county workers, like teachers and police, Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President David Walrod said.

About 1 in 7 Fairfax County employees can’t afford to live where they work, according to a 2021 analysis by The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis (TCI), a Richmond-based think tank.

“I’d never want to minimize the importance of the Board of Supervisors,” Walrod said. “But the reality is that if they are finding it difficult to maintain their homes and find childcare at $90,000, and require 47% raises to make ends meet, they should consider what that means for the county’s public employees who make significantly less.”

The county forecast in November that workers should get a 5.4% market rate adjustment (MRA) — the highest in more than 25 years due primarily to inflation, County Executive Bryan Hill said in a letter on his proposed budget for fiscal year 2024, which begins July 1.

Faced with an $86 million price tag, Hill included a 2% MRA in the advertised budget, prioritizing merit, longevity and performance increases instead.

Lauren Tumbleson, a social services worker for the county and member of SEIU Virginia 512, said she and her coworkers were “shocked and dismayed” when they learned about the Board of Supervisors’ proposed raises.

“Whether it’s wage compression or raises that don’t keep pace with the cost of living, the County is showing that it doesn’t value our hard work and dedication,” she said. “We’ve been vocal about the need for pay fairness but leadership decided to propose a raise for themselves instead.”

County workers have gotten support for its objections from at least one state legislator.

Del. Holly Seibold, who was elected to represent the 35th House District in January, called the proposed raises “objectionable” in a March 8 statement, encouraging constituents to participate in the upcoming public hearing.

A former teacher with a master’s degree, Seibold said she would need to work for 18 years from a starting salary of around $58,000 to match the supervisors’ current pay, which is still more than the $38,000 that a county records clerk makes annually on average.

“I expect the board to make responsible decisions or I would be open to creating oversight to ensure that they do,” she said, noting that she has a second job so that she can serve as delegate, which pays $17,000 a year.

When asked to elaborate, Seibold told FFXnow that the General Assembly has existing committees that can be assigned to provide oversight for localities.

“I thought it was important to publicly comment on this issue because so many of my constituents — many of which were teachers, support staff, first responders, etc —  contacted me and were upset over the increase in supervisor salaries, yet the wages of county employees remained low,” she said by email. “I, too, thought it was wrong — and believe it is important to stand up for what’s right.”