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Fairfax County Fire and Rescue engine ladder (file photo)

Firefighters, medics and other Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department employees will have a union represent them in the county’s first collective bargaining negotiations for public workers in over 40 years.

Over 800 FCFRD workers participated in a 13-day election last month to determine whether to have union representation for contract talks with the county government, which will establish pay, benefits and other working conditions.

The only union in contention, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 2068 won with a decisive 797 votes, or 95.2%. The only other option on the ballot was to have no representation, which received 40 votes, the union announced Friday (Nov. 18).

With 1,533 members, Local 2068 represents firefighters, fire marshals, mechanics, medics and emergency dispatchers employed by Fairfax County. 837 eligible voters — 54.6% — cast a ballot in the election from Oct. 12-31.

“This is a monumental day for the members of our department,” IAFF 2068 President Robert Young said in a news release. “But it’s also a monumental day for all Fairfax County employees, and all of the residents of our community. We’ve shown that when Fairfax County workers come together…we have the power to have a say in the decisions that impact our lives and the lives of the communities we serve.”

After Virginia ended a 44-year ban on collective bargaining for public sector workers in May 2021, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance on Oct. 19, 2021 granting employees the right to organize, elect union representatives and participate in union activities.

Under the ordinance, the county will recognize separate bargaining units for the fire department, police and other county workers. Elections haven’t been held yet for the police and general government units.

With negotiations expected to begin in early 2023, Local 2068 says one priority will be addressing the staffing shortages that have affected the fire department and other county agencies, from police to the park authority and public library system.

Local 2068 says first responders have been forced to work mandatory overtime, adding 12 to 24 hours on top of their standard 24-hour shift “sometimes with little to no notice.” The union says its members have performed over 80,000 hours of “holdovers” — equal to 3,333 24-hour days.

“Having members work such excessive mandatory overtime isn’t just bad for their health, but it’s a potential hazard for the community members we serve,” Young said. “We look forward to addressing this issue at the bargaining table.”

Collective bargaining negotiations will last up to November 2023. A resulting agreement won’t take effect until July 1, 2024, when the county’s fiscal year 2025 begins.

Some issues could be addressed earlier as part of the upcoming fiscal year 2024 budget process, which will begin in earnest when County Executive Bryan Hill presents his proposed plan on Feb. 21.

Young said Local 2068 will advocate for merit and cost of living pay increases as well as funding for automated ambulance loaders — stretchers where the legs automatically fold up as the device is rolled into a vehicle.

“We’re the only jurisdiction in the region that doesn’t have access to these tools, tools that not only help prevent members from being injured, but also help us deliver faster and safer service to the community,” Young said.

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Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department (file photo)

The first union election that Fairfax County employees have been allowed to hold in over four decades is now underway.

With an election for representation that launched Monday (Oct. 10), firefighters, medics, fire marshals and other Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department workers will determine whether the union IAFF Local 2068 can represent them in upcoming contract negotiations with the county government.

Voting is being conducted electronically through the independent company BallotPoint and will continue until Oct. 31, according to IAFF Local 2068, which has a membership of approximately 1,500 FCFRD employees.

“Our department is filled with intelligent, highly qualified and highly trained people,” IAFF Local 2068 President Robert Young said in the news release. “We’re first responders who love our jobs, love serving the Fairfax community, and want to continue to ensure that we are providing the best fire and medical emergency services possible. Bargaining allows us to do just that, while also ensuring that the concerns of our members and our community are heard and treated equitably.”

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a collective bargaining ordinance on Oct. 19, 2021, giving county government employees the power to have a union negotiate their pay, benefits and working conditions for the first time in more than 40 years.

Public sector workers had been barred from collective bargaining in Virginia since the state Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that the General Assembly could prohibit the practice. The court cited the Dillon Rule that limits local governments’ powers and has become a source of frustration in Fairfax County.

Localities finally got the authority to adopt ordinances recognizing labor unions and giving employees the ability to collectively bargain in May 2021, when a bill passed by state lawmakers and signed by then-governor Ralph Northam in 2020 took effect.

Under its approved ordinance, Fairfax County will recognize separate bargaining units representing general county employees, the fire department, and police, an approach that some workers’ groups had opposed.

Since no other unions have been accepted for firefighters, the only options in the current election are to approve Local 2068 as the bargaining unit or “no one,” organizer Jeremy McClayton told FFXnow by email.

General county employees and the police will hold their own elections. They both have multiple unions vying to serve as their bargaining unit, according to McClayton.

Fairfax County Public Schools has yet to grant collective bargaining rights to its employees, though a resolution for the school board to adopt is being developed.

On the county side, the Board of Supervisors confirmed Sarah Miller Espinosa as its labor relations administrator on June 7. The administrator serves as a neutral party tasked with establishing union election procedures, overseeing negotiations, and mediating disputes.

If Local 2068 wins, the union will begin contract negotiations with the county in the spring.

Young said in the press release that, with collective bargaining, the union hopes to create “an equitable and collaborative relationship” between workers and the county.

“It’s about ensuring that all of our employees are heard, that they’re all a part of the decision making process, and that they all have a sense of ownership of their careers and lives,” Young said. “We’re happy to have the overwhelming support of our elected officials, and all the members of the Fairfax community who made this election for representation possible.”

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Fairfax County plans to hire a neutral observer this year who will help handle activities involving county government workers’ unions.

Although unions can move ahead with elections now, groups appear content to wait for the labor relations administrator to be in place.

“The labor relations administrator will be the neutral person, so they don’t work for us. They don’t work for any of the employee groups,” Fairfax County Human Resources Director Cathy Spage told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday (Feb. 1) at a Personnel and Reorganization Committee meeting. “They’re going to be like a judge.”

The person will be tasked with establishing and publishing union vote procedures and overseeing secret ballot elections, among other duties. Fairfax County government plans to use a contractor for the position and will accept proposals from Wednesday (Feb. 9) through March 9.

The Board of Supervisors could approve the new position on May 24, allowing the administrator to start this summer for a four-year term.

The county approved a historic ordinance in October allowing public-sector unions to negotiate wages, benefits, and working conditions on the behalf of county government employees.

The move was made possible by a 2020 General Assembly law that overruled a 1977 state Supreme Court decision barring public workers from collective bargaining.

According to the ordinance, if a union seeks to hold an election before the labor relations administrator is in place, the county would secure services from an impartial agency provider, such as the American Arbitration Association or another group.

As of Tuesday (Feb. 1), no union filings have begun. Units representing police, fire and general county government employees will be allowed to collectively bargain.

“Right now we are not ready to do elections,” Spage said. “We haven’t received any petitions to do elections.”

Following an election, a union acting as the exclusive bargaining agent must start contract negotiations on or before July 1 and conclude by Oct. 15 in order for an agreement to be in place for the next fiscal year.

That means the first collectively bargained agreement for Fairfax County government workers could take effect on July 1, 2023.

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Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Tina Williams speaks in support of collective bargaining for general county government workers in October (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County Public Schools is moving to give its workers collective bargaining powers.

An FCPS webpage launched Friday (Dec. 17) explains that the school system is developing an ordinance establishing the scope and rules of collective bargaining, which will enable labor unions to negotiate pay, benefits, and working conditions for their members.

Work on the proposed draft ordinance is expected to continue until the end of January. The text could be released for public comment in February or March, Fairfax Education Association President Kimberly Adams told FFXnow.

A union representing FCPS teachers and support staff, including bus drivers, custodians, nurses, and cafeteria workers, the FEA says it is confident that the school board will adopt an ordinance allowing collective bargaining.

“We have waited for 44 years, and the time is now to pass a strong ordinance,” Adams said in a statement. “Our students’ learning conditions are our working conditions and we want to remain the school district that people love to work and learn in.”

Local government workers in Virginia had been prohibited from collective bargaining since 1977 until the General Assembly passed legislation allowing localities to authorize the practice during its spring 2020 session.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance for general county government employees on Oct. 19, but FCPS needs to create a separate policy for its employees. The school system has 24,839 full-time workers, according to its website.

The state law still prohibits government workers from striking, and even if FCPS adopts a collective bargaining ordinance, union membership won’t be required for employees, since Virginia remains a right-to-work state.

FCPS says it’s unclear how the introduction of collective bargaining will affect current employees and their pay, but the process for negotiating agreements in the future will be aligned with the school system’s annual budget timeline.

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, a union open to all FCPS teachers and other non-administrative, non-supervisory employees, says it has been working with FCPS to develop a resolution “that is inclusive and flexible for all members” since the 2020 Virginia law took effect on May 1.

“Throughout our sessions our bargaining team has fought for a broad and open bargaining scope that helps to establish school staff’s right to negotiate hours and scheduling, compensation, health, retirement, all working conditions and other benefits,” FCFT President Tina Williams said by email. “As we bargain to build power in our county, we will continue to fight to guarantee our members’ voices are included throughout  the entirety of the process.”

The FEA and FCFT are among several school employee organizations in a collective bargaining work group created by FCPS earlier this year. The group convened for the first time on Sept. 30 and is expected to continue meeting every few weeks through January.

“FEA has been at each session, ready to advocate for our member’s needs and build partnerships that achieve our interests,” Adams said. “We look forward to the final draft and a strong vote from our school board.”

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Fairfax County’s logo on the government center (via Machvee/Flickr)

For the first time in decades, Fairfax County workers have collective bargaining powers.

The county Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance 9-1 yesterday (Tuesday) allowing unions to negotiate for pay, benefits, working conditions, scheduling, and more. The lone opposing vote came from Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik called it a historic day, marking the first time in 44 years that collective bargaining is allowed for county government workers.

Collective bargaining will improve the county’s ability to retain employees and result in better services for the community, Chairman Jeff McKay said after the vote.

“Approving this ordinance allows us to go to the next step to work on and establish a collective bargaining agreement, something that I know our employees have been asking for for a very long time,” McKay said.

Virginia had banned collective bargaining for government workers since the state Supreme Court ruled against the practice in 1977.

That changed last year when the General Assembly passed legislation giving local governments the option to create ordinances recognizing their employees’ labor unions and allowing collective bargaining for public workers.

The ordinance doesn’t affect the county’s 24,000-plus public school employees. The school board would have to adopt its own collective bargaining ordinance for Fairfax County Public Schools. But the ordinance could act as a model for other local governments and the county’s school board.

The new state law and Fairfax County’s ordinance still restrict workers’ ability to strike. If government employees do so, they will be fired and prohibited from working for a governmental body in Virginia for one year.

In response to the state law, Fairfax County created a collective bargaining workgroup on Sept. 29, 2020 that included elected officials, employee group representatives, and county government and school staff.

The board’s personnel committee received its first draft of the ordinance on May 25 and spent the summer working to refine it. The board held a public hearing on Oct. 5 but deferred a vote on the matter to its next regular meeting.

David Broder, president of SEIU Virginia 512, which represents over 2,000 Fairfax County general government workers, celebrated the vote as a historic victory achieved after years of advocacy.

“Our union is thrilled to usher in a new era where employees and management collaborate to solve workplace issues, where workers have a real voice to improve their pay, benefits, and working conditions, and where every constituent in this community gets the quality public services we all deserve,” Tammie Wondong, president of SEIU Virginia 512’s Fairfax chapter, said in a statement. “Together, and with meaningful collective bargaining rights, we will transform Fairfax into a place where every working family can thrive.”

Other unions for groups ranging from firefighters and police to public works employees had advocated changes to the ordinance, including at this month’s public hearing. Read More

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Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Tina Williams speaks at a union rally prior to a public hearing on a proposed collective bargaining ordinance for county government workers (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 6:45 p.m.) Scores of people called on Fairfax County to adopt a more robust collective bargaining policy for county government workers at a Board of Supervisors public hearing on a proposed ordinance yesterday (Tuesday).

At a rally before the public hearing and at the meeting itself, labor union representatives and other speakers stated that they want more workers to be eligible to participate in collective bargaining, more ability to negotiate working conditions, and more flexibility in discussing labor issues while they’re at work.

“This is a defining moment,” Fairfax County Federation of Teachers president Tina Williams said during yesterday’s public hearing. “Fairfax County can set the standard in Virginia.”

Williams and Fairfax Education Association President Kimberly Adams were among the educational leaders who gave their support to a county ordinance, even though it would not cover school employees. Fairfax County Public Schools needs to adopt a policy separately.

Fairfax County has spent months developing collective bargaining procedures after the Virginia General Assembly broke from a 1977 state Supreme Court ruling that banned public-sector unions from collectively bargaining. The legislature approved a law in April 2020 that gives localities the authority to develop ordinances to permit collective bargaining if they choose to do so.

County leaders have expressed support for collective bargaining, which is already permitted for government workers in most states as well as D.C. Some neighboring jurisdictions, including Arlington and the City of Alexandria, adopted their own ordinances earlier this year.

With labor groups representing a wide range of workers, from firefighters and police to public works, nurses, librarians, and social workers, weighing in, the Board of Supervisors decided to defer a vote on the ordinance to its next regular meeting on Oct. 19.

Board Chairman Jeff McKay said the postponement will let supervisors to absorb the testimony and respond to speakers’ requests to take more time on the matter. Written comments will continue to be accepted as part of the public hearing.

Most speakers during the hours-long hearing came in support of an ordinance, though a few raised concerns about the implications the matter would have on taxpayers.

The county projects that the ordinance will carry $1.9 million in annual costs to handle increased workloads.

At least nine full-time equivalent employees and additional support positions will be needed to address new work involving labor relations, legal support, policy administration, contract compliance and administration, according to a county staff report.

While there was broad support for collective bargaining, labor groups and other stakeholders voiced concerns about the most recent draft of the proposed ordinance. Read More

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