For the first time in over four decades, Fairfax County’s police officers and firefighters got an opportunity this year to negotiate their pay, benefits and working conditions with the local government.
The collective bargaining process led to new contracts for Fairfax County Police Department and the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department employees that union representatives and county leaders both lauded as meaningful wins for public safety workers.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 on Dec. 5 to approve the agreements with the Fairfax chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association (SSPBA) and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 2068, committing the board to making a “good faith” effort to funding the pay increases and other contractual obligations in the county’s next budget.
Set to retire at the end of this year, Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross called the collective bargaining agreements “the heaviest lift” of her 28 years as chair of the board’s personnel committee. Though there was interest in letting employees negotiate their contracts when she was first elected, Virginia didn’t give localities that authority until 2021.
“It took seven terms to get us there and a change in the General Assembly,” Gross said. “But I am very pleased we are where we are…I think we are now in a place where we will be able to move forward with our employees, especially for our [public] safety and firefighters, and this is a nice note to go out.”
What’s in the contracts
Gross and Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay credited IAFF Local 2068 as an early advocate for collective bargaining. The board approved an ordinance in October 2021 that gave police, firefighters and general county employees the ability to negotiate their contracts through a union, an option that Fairfax County Public Schools workers also secured this past March.
Key provisions of the Local 2068 agreement include a new pay plan with a higher starting salary and annual raises for the first 25 years of service, pay for training, an additional period of light duty for workers after a pregnancy and a pay incentive for higher education, according to IAFF Local 2068 President Robert Young.
The contract also lets the union create a committee to review and make recommendations on insurance coverage, and both parties agreed to form a Joint Labor Management Committee to recommend future contract changes — potentially including reduced work hours for FCFRD workers who go into the field. A study to determine the cost and a timeline for a reduction must be completed by Jan. 1, 2026.
“We believe that this contract will be a solid foundation for future negotiations and give us the ability to collaborate to resolve future issues,” Young said in a statement. “…We were able to forecast some future needs like work hours and some of our vendors for benefits.”
Young said he’s confident that the contract’s financial components will be funded in the fiscal year 2025 budget, which will start on July 1, after the county and union negotiators “spent several months working to deliver a contract that was fiscally responsible and resolved some of the issues our members faced.”
Ratified by union members on Nov. 8, the contract will be in effect from July 1, 2024 through June 30, 2027. In addition to firefighters, medics, mechanics and other FCFRD personnel, it covers 911 call takers and dispatchers in the Department of Public Safety Communications.
On the police side, the SSPBA announced that its contract will increase officer pay by 12% over the next three fiscal years, provide “more equitable access” to leave and a more “streamlined” grievance process that includes the right of employees under investigation to be accompanied by a union steward.
Covering the same time frame as the IAFF agreement, the contract was ratified by SSPBA members on Nov. 9.
“This is a big win for police officers and will ultimately help Fairfax County as a whole,” said Will Thetford, a senior associate attorney with Simms Showers, which provided legal counsel to SSPBA. “It ensures fair pay and fair treatment for Fairfax’s police officers. It is our hope that this agreement will help the County recruit and retain good officers and ultimately serve both the officers and the citizens that they serve.”
At the board meeting, Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said she was glad to see the contracts include support for physical and mental health and wellness services, calling the vote a “historic moment.”
Contracts will have impact on county budget
Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity was the lone downvote for both agreements, despite his past advocacy for increased public safety pay. The board’s sole Republican, Herrity expressed support for many of the provisions, including on compensation, but took issue with the board’s lack of input on the county’s objectives during collective bargaining.
“I don’t know if that’s a good way to manage, to turn it over to staff and let them hammer it out with our public safety officials without board input or report back to the board on what’s in here and what’s not,” Herrity said.
Observing that Herrity regularly votes against adopting the county’s annual budgets, McKay and Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw argued that the goal of collective bargaining is to give employees an opportunity to advocate for themselves.
“The point was to get the public safety folks at the table, to hear from them and not the politicians who try to speak for them, which unfortunately happens on this dais and most of the time is not right,” McKay said.
The county’s first public-sector collective bargaining agreements since the Virginia Supreme Court let a ban take effect in 1977 come at a time when the local government is bracing for budget constraints. County Executive Bryan Hill will release his proposal for fiscal year 2025 on Feb. 20.
According to county staff, the IAFF agreement will cost $54.4 million over three years, including $24.7 million in its first year. The total fiscal impact for SSPBA agreement will be $67.5 million, including $33 million for the first year.
Walkinshaw noted that the county “would’ve incurred a lot of those costs with or without” collective bargaining, since it reviews compensation, staffing and other components every budget cycle.
General county employees and FCPS employees have yet to hold elections to determine their bargaining representatives, so their future contracts aren’t expected to be in place in time to affect the next budget.
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