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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