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.”
Last week our Election for Bargaining Representation was officially certified – Local 2068 won with over 95% of the vote (!!!)
— Fairfax Firefighters (@IAFF2068) November 20, 2022
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.
Fairfax County has officially allocated millions of unspent revenue from the previous year’s budget for items like restrooms for school stadiums and a boost of the county’s hiring program.
At a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday (Oct. 11), the board voted 7-1 to allocate $7.5 million in carryover funds to help install permanent restrooms at 15 Fairfax County Public School outdoor high school stadiums.
“At its heart, this is a matter of equity. No matter which school a student goes to in Fairfax County, it is expected they receive not only a high-quality education, but that they are provided high-quality, accessible facilities as well,” Board Chairman Jeff McKay wrote in a statement.
The school board has already agreed to pitch in half of the funds needed for the new facilities.
The board also approved an additional $2 million for a “comprehensive hiring incentive program,” which could grant up to $15,000 in bonuses for new hires in critical county positions. In total, the reserve includes more than $4 million, but exactly where the money will go remains to be determined.
“A portion of all the funding could be used for all agencies, but we do not know exactly how much of the allocation will be towards hiring incentives until the County Executive reports on the design of the program,” McKay’s office told FFXnow.
Tammie Wondong, a 32-year county employee and president of SEIU Virginia 512 Fairfax, lauded the board for amending the carryover package to create a hiring incentive program instead of funding raises for top executives.
A recent “benchmark study” of the county’s executive and managerial positions found salaries were generally below market rate. Staff recommended that the pay scale be simplified and adjusted to be more competitive at the Board of Supervisors’ personnel committee meeting on July 26.
“The Board clearly heard employees’ voices because they changed the carryover package to invest in a hiring incentives reserve, instead of executive pay,” Wondong said. “However, the county must do more to ensure fair pay for their hard-working employees who got our community through the worst of the pandemic.”
The union delivered hundreds of petitions urging the county to maintain transparency around the use of carryover funds, relieve wage compression, and ensure all county employees are engaged in future benchmark studies.
Dave Lysons, executive director of the Fairfax Workers Coalition, said the county is no longer competitive for many jobs, adding that its current vacancy rate is 13% overall with a 17% rate in public works.
“Fairfax County is no longer competitive for these jobs…We can’t continue like this,” Lyons said.
Other allocations include roughly $25 million for pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements, part of an overall commitment to fund $100 million in projects over six years.
“The sidewalks were not a part of this current package but may be considered as part of the ongoing $100M commitment to pedestrian safety,” McKay’s office said by email.
Among other needs, the county also allocated $175,000 to design and construct a picnic shelter, ADA-accessible pathway and picnic tables and benches for Justice Park in the Mason District.
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.”
Earlier today we issued the following Media Advisory re our Collective Bargaining Election –
“At the end of the day, this is about creating an equitable and collaborative relationship..We’re happy to have the overwhelming support of the community who made this possible.”#ffxva pic.twitter.com/ec5p5q0Vzh
— Fairfax Firefighters (@IAFF2068) October 10, 2022
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.
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.”
With the national shortage of commercial drivers continuing to strain services from trash collection to school buses, the Town of Vienna plans to increase salaries and offer bonuses to bolster its maintenance workforce.
As part of a new incentive program, the Department of Public Works recommends that the town increase its entry-level salary for maintenance workers to $55,000 and offer a $2,000 hiring bonus to new employees with a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
Maintenance workers — who handle tasks from paving and plowing roads to maintaining sewers and parks facilities — currently get a minimum annual salary of $40,354 or $44,490, depending on the exact position, according to Vienna’s pay plan for fiscal year 2022-2023.
The incentive program would adjust the salaries of existing employees with CDLs accordingly “to address compression and years of service,” town staff wrote in a request for $80,000 to fund the plan in the FY 2022-2023 budget.
The program would also give an annual $2,500 bonus to employees who maintain a Class A CDL and $2,000 bonuses to employees who maintain a Class B license.
Per the staff memo, the proposed hiring bonuses are in line with what Fairfax County, the Town of Herndon, and other Northern Virginia jurisdictions are offering. However, they fall short of what workers can get from the private sector, where incentives range from $4,000 to $10,000.
Vienna’s public works department is seeking $80,000 for the program in a $1.28 million set of adjustments to the FY 2022-2023 budget, known as carry forwards.
“Carry forward money is available because the Town had a surplus in FY 2021-22 of approximately $720,000,” town staff said. “The surplus is due to a combination of several General Fund revenues exceeding budget plus salary savings due to position vacancies during the year.”
Intended to address needs identified after the budget was adopted in May, the package includes $100,000 for building maintenance, $15,000 for landscaping at the Bowman House, and $30,000 to switch 60 town cell phones from T-Mobile to AT&T, among other items.
Stricter regulations for massage salons that the town council approved on Aug. 29 will require a new temporary employee to help enforce the new rules, according to staff. The town estimates that the position will cost $40,000.
“During the 2024 budget cycle staff will recommend whether or not this requires a permanent full or half-time position,” the memo says.
The Vienna Town Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed carry forward plan during its regular meeting at 8 p.m. tonight (Monday).
Workers for the federal contractor that runs call centers for Medicaid, Medicare, and other services took their fight for better wages, benefits and work conditions to the streets of Tysons last week, garnering some honks of support from passing drivers.
Over two dozen Maximus employees marched from Tysons Galleria to the company’s new corporate headquarters at 1600 Tysons Blvd on Friday (June 17) to deliver a petition calling for livable wages and affordable health care.
Garnering 11,853 signatures, the petition also expresses support for workers at call centers in Mississippi and Louisiana who organized strikes this spring as part of an ongoing campaign to unionize with the Communications Workers of America.
“A lot of these folks are just asking for living wages,” said Christian Ohuabunwa, who helps process disability benefits for veterans at a call center in Houston, Texas. “We’re asking for affordable health care benefits, that you don’t have to decide between eating and sending your kid to the hospital. We’re asking that they truly listen to us and try and make some changes.”
Previously based at Reston Station, Maximus employs 37,000 people and commands $4.25 billion in revenue, according to its website. In early May, the contractor reported $1.18 billion in revenue for the second quarter of fiscal year 2022, a 22.7% increase over the previous year.
Maximus told investors that growth in its federal services segment was driven by “expected contributions” from recent acquisitions, including a $1.4 billion deal for Veteran Evaluation Services Inc. (VES) that closed in June 2021.
Ohuabunwa started working for VES in 2018 and says he “felt a sense of camaraderie” in the company, which he notes was veteran-owned.
That changed when Maximus took over. On top of paying a $6,000 deductible under the company’s health care plan, Ohuabunwa says his frustrations include a lack of communication between leaders and employees and the elimination of incentives to process questionnaires that determine whether a veteran qualifies for benefits faster.
“Now that Maximus has taken over, there’s now a backlog of cases,” he told FFXnow. “Prior to this, we did not have that, because people were enthusiastic about what they did, so work got done. Now, there’s no encouragement for you to go that extra step.”
Maximus says it continues “to look for ways to improve health benefit coverage and affordability,” noting that the deductible for its free individual coverage plan dropped from $4,500 to $2,500 in April. Read More
Additional raises are coming for Fairfax County government employees, specifically firefighters, police officers and other uniformed public safety workers.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors plans to allocate $6.1 million in the upcoming budget to give a step increase to certain public safety workers hired on or before June 30, 2021. The proposal is part of a mark-up package that will go before the board tomorrow (Tuesday).
“This adjustment, which targets job classes that have seen higher levels of resignations, almost exclusively benefits employees at the first two ranks in the respective departments,” the county said in the pre-markup budget draft.
At a budget policy committee meeting on Friday (April 22), staff told Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity that nearly a third of public safety workers will receive the additional step increase, which along with other raises would translate into 14.01% increases in compensation. Similar to previous remarks, Herrity said the county should devote more than $6.1 million to the increased compensation.
- 4.01% market rate adjustment raises for county workers
- Performance, merit and longevity increases across the board
- A new 25-year-longevity raise for uniformed public safety workers, who got an average pay increase of 7.86%
Other county government workers would get 6.16% salary increases under the advertised plan, according to the county, and the board says it recognizes that recruitment and retention challenges remain.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement today (Monday) that he wanted to ensure his budget proposal strategically targeted areas where employees were leaving.
Not all public servants would get the changes they asked for, though.
Despite a public defenders’ request for equal pay compared to prosecutors, the revised and likely final budget will not include funding for that. Last year, the county extended 15% salary supplements for state probation and parole officers as well as staff in the Office of the Public Defender.
“If the state were to appropriately compensate these employees, the need for County-funded salary supplements would be eliminated,” McKay said, reading from the pre-markup budget draft. “However, despite the County’s best efforts — and despite the availability of state funding — the state has not taken action to address pay concerns of its own employees, most notably those in the Office of the Public Defender. The funding of this office is inherently a state responsibility.”
He added he has “spent significant time over the past couple days talking to our members of the General Assembly delegation” to address state funding for the public defender’s office.
He shared that state employees, which include public defenders, are slated to receive at least a 5% salary increase. McKay noted that the General Assembly budget is still under consideration, and more adjustments could occur.
For General District Court staff overall, the advertised budget earmarks a 4.01% market rate adjustment uptick as well as performance and longevity raises. That would increase county spending from $1.72 million to $1.8 million.
Meanwhile, the advertised budget will decrease county expenses for the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney from $6.96 million to $6.75 million.
The revised budget, which will be adopted on May 10, also calls for a property tax rate of $1.11 per $100 of assessed value and other changes.
A Starbucks in Merrifield has unionized.
About a month after filing a petition for an election, workers at the cafe at 3046 Gate House Plaza voted 30-2 in support of forming a union on Friday (April 22), becoming the coffee company’s first store in Fairfax County to take that step.
“My first reaction was just happiness,” employee and organizer Claudia Sol said. “We’re all very proud of each other for what we were able to accomplish…It’s pretty amazing to see all the work that our store did to be able to unionize, and we’re looking forward to what’s to come.”
Some local elected officials, including Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik and Del. Marcus Simon (D-53), stopped by the store both before and after the vote to show their support for its unionizing efforts.
“Everyone deserves a good union job with fair pay, quality health care, and rights at work,” SEIU Virginia 512 President David Broder said. “The Merrifield Starbucks workers’ overwhelming vote to unionize is an historic moment and yet another sign that working people in Fairfax County are organizing for an economy that works for all of us.”
FALLS CHURCH WORKERS WIN 30-2, becoming the 6th unionized Starbucks store in Virginia!!!! pic.twitter.com/rCAetQrNtI
— SBWorkersUnited (@SBWorkersUnited) April 22, 2022
The landslide victory came just nine days after union proponents suffered a defeat in Springfield, where Starbucks workers voted 10-8 against unionizing on April 13.
While she doesn’t have any direct knowledge of what happened in Springfield, Sol says she heard that the district manager was “really aggressive” when talking to workers one-on-one in the lead-up to their election.
Organizers told NPR that Starbucks cut their hours and warned benefits and promotions would be at risk if they unionized, though the company has denied engaging in union-busting activities. Workers United, the union that employees hoped to join, filed charges against Starbucks last week, alleging retaliation, coercive threats, and other issues to the National Labor Relations Board. Read More
Karen Johnson commutes two hours each way to get to work in Fair Oaks, leaving at 5 a.m. from her home in Fredericksburg.
Johnson, a child care center teacher, has tried to live in Fairfax County but can’t afford it, she said on April 12 at a budget hearing with fellow union members. She called on the Board of Supervisors to fund proposed raises to the county’s 11,000-plus merit workers.
“The pay we receive every two weeks is a stress day for me because it’s a balancing act,” Johnson said. “Rents are downright outrageous, and the cost of living has soared.”
With labor groups and workers raising concerns about the cost of living in Fairfax County, the average vacancy rate across the government was 15%, representing 2,125 openings, as of March 18, according to a budget question-and-answer response to Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw.
According to county staff, county government employees received nearly 8% in market rate adjustments (MRA) over a seven-year period when their compensation plan called for nearly 14%. Public safety got 11.5% in additional raises out of 16% planned, and general county employees got 10.5% out of 14.5% planned.
“It should be noted that the unfunded budget years for merit/performance/longevity increases in the last two years were due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” staff said in a response to Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity.
Service Employees International Union Virginia 512 President David Broder, whose union includes a chapter for Fairfax County government employees, said workers are asking the Board of Supervisors to adopt the pay plan in the proposed budget, which calls for 4.01% MRA increases, merit increases, and longevity raises.
“We’re not asking to get rich,” Johnson said. “But we’re just asking for you to fully fund the raises in the budget…this year so that we can do the job that we love.”
Advocacy groups and residents have pressed for the county to address a variety of priorities in its $4.8 billion general fund budget, from parks funding and affordable housing to relief for rising vehicle and real estate taxes.
Resident Jim McMahon said at a hearing on April 13 that he could face a $3,000 increase in his property bill due to a nearly 20% increase in his assessment, which came after an approximately 15% increase last year.
He asked the board to reconsider the budget, make up for spending increases by reducing other areas, and reduce tax rates. He noted that, thanks to a law from the 1970s, California caps annual assessments at 2% each year.
“They did that so that they could try to give residents the means to continue to be able to afford to live in California, and then they do an adjustment at the sale time to the level of the property tax to the current level,” McMahon said. “But for the residents who are there already, they’re trying to help them.”
The Board of Supervisors’ budget policy committee will meet at 3 p.m. today (Friday) to discuss possible adjustments to the budget. The full budget markup is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Tuesday (April 26).
The Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office has 71 vacancies. There are over 200 vacancies at the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board. And that’s not all.
Staff vacancies continue to be a challenge at county agencies across the board, administrators and employee leaders told the Board of Supervisors at budget hearings last week.
“Staffing shortages particularly impact vulnerable populations and lead to increased waiting times for services,” CSB Member-at-Large Anne Whipple said at a hearing on Thursday (April 14).
The county’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2023, which begins July 1, adds 10 positions at the mental health services provider, bringing its total to 1,095 positions if all are filled, but it’s still facing significant shortages.
The advertised budget includes 4.01% raises through market rate adjustments as well as additional merit and performance increases. Uniformed public safety workers also get a 25-year longevity bump.
The county’s $4.8 billion general fund budget includes $79.26 million in unallocated funds and an additional $83 million from vehicle taxes due to soaring market values. County leaders have indicated that some of that money could be used to provide tax relief.
Ron Kuley, president of the Fairfax County Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics union, asked the board for an additional 4% salary increase for firefighter through lieutenant ranks, costing $6.7 million.
“This would greatly, greatly benefit with the recruitment and retention efforts and would keep us more in line with our comparative jurisdictions,” he said during Thursday’s budget hearing.
He said that’s more important than adding a 25-year longevity step increase, suggesting that the board redirect the $768,000 allocated to the step increase to the raise request.
Kuley said nearly 55 firefighters have left for neighboring jurisdictions in the last two years.
Calls for the county to increase compensation for its workers have also come from unions representing educators and general county employees, who cited inflation, housing costs, and other challenges that make it difficult for them to live in the county.
People can still submit written testimony until April 26, when the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to mark up the budget. The board will adopt a final budget on May 10.
Fairfax County government employees called on the Board of Supervisors to support workers with its new budget amid staff retention issues and financial pressures.
Union representatives discussed the impact of inflation and rising housing and health care costs on their members’ ability to live where they work during public hearings this week on the proposed $4.8 billion budget.
Leslie Houston, a learning disabilities teacher at Braddock Elementary and president-elect of the Fairfax Education Association, said some of her colleagues can’t afford to live and shop in the area.
“In education, we must be about the kids, but that is not possible if we are not taking care of the people who are taking care of the kids,” Houston said.
Janette Corcelius, a teacher who said she lives in the Mount Vernon District with her family, stated that she couldn’t afford to live there on her own even though she’s worked for Fairfax County Public Schools for six years.
“My situation is not unique,” she said. “This is a struggle Millenials and Gen Z come across when trying to live and work in this area. Affordable housing…support is necessary.”
The county’s advertised budget for fiscal year 2023, which begins on July 1, would fully fund the school board’s request, which would increase the transferred funds by nearly $112.7 million over last year.
For non-school government employees, the county budget proposes a 4.01% market rate adjustment, adding a 25-year longevity step and providing additional merit and performance increases.
Fairfax Workers Coalition Executive Director David Lyons said most workers are paid well below the midlevel of their pay scales, especially in the trades.
“We are no longer fully competitive in today’s marketplace,” he said. “You need to bring your workers up to scale.”
The Fairfax County Government Employees Union, a chapter of SEIU Virginia 512 that represents sanitation workers, social workers, child educators, and others, requested that the Board of Supervisors protect the plan’s pay increases and lower health care costs for workers.
“The past two years have been unlike anything we’ve ever experienced,” President Tammie Wondong Ware said. “Through it all, your county employees have been on the job, keeping everyone safe.”
Wondong Ware also noted that unions are expected to begin negotiating contracts with the county at the start of the new fiscal year. In a historic shift, the county board agreed last October to allow collective bargaining, but the county is still laying the groundwork to make that happen.
“We look forward to negotiating a contract which ensures…that every year, your workforce receives fair pay, affordable health care, safe staffing levels and healthy workplaces,” Wondong Ware said.
Karen Sheffield, chair of the Employee Advisory Council, which supports over 10,000 employees, said the group applauds the budget’s proposed compensation increases but felt the financial support could go further.
She said many workers are leaving the county government for jobs with better compensation and more options for work-life balance.
“Help us to curtail the exodus,” Sheffield said, calling for a 5.9% market rate adjustment.
The Board of Supervisors will determine how to address competing priorities that range from tax relief and calls to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to pay equity for the public defender’s office at a budget markup meeting on April 16.
The board will adopt the new county budget on May 10.