The Loudoun Board of Supervisors has voted to let unions into county buildings to talk to and recruit public employees.
Currently, under state law, state and local governments are not allowed to recognize any union or collective bargaining. Although some county employees are union members already with organizations like the Service Employees International Union Virginia 512, whose leaders speak on behalf of the concerns of county employees during the public input sessions in every annual budget cycle, unions cannot bargain on behalf of employees.
But with a new state law signed in April and going into effect in May 2021, localities may elect to recognize collective bargaining representatives, allowing unions to negotiate on behalf of employees. Employees of constitutional officers, in Loudoun including the sheriff, commonwealth’s attorney, treasurer, commissioner of the revenue and clerk of the Circuit Court, are excluded.
Democrats on the county board are moving toward that possibility, starting with a party-line vote on Oct. 20 to allow labor associations and organizations with more than 100 members to hold open houses twice per year in the Shenandoah Building and County Government Center in Leesburg, and in the county government offices on Ridgetop Circle in Sterling. Supervisors also directed the staff to allow for those organizations to include materials in the county’s new hire packets, if they have more than 100 members who are Loudoun County government employees.
The change was introduced by County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) and Vice Chairman Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling). Randall said now is the time to get in front of the change by preparing the county government and its employees.
“We’re no longer talking about whether ‘meet and confer’ and/or collective bargaining will come to Virginia,” Randall said. “That’s already done. Were it not for COVID, it would probably be here already.”
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said the change is “putting the cart before the horse,” and that just because collective bargaining will come to Virginia in May doesn’t mean it will automatically be coming to Loudoun.
“I understand the political realities of the board in that it probably will pass, but we’re going to have a discussion next month at the finance committee about what the financial implications of that are,” said Letourneau, who chairs that committee.
Supervisor Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin) evoked the murder of George Floyd to argue against unions.
“Derek Chauvin, who killed George Floyd, who was a police officer, and he was part of a union, and we’ve seen this in many other police departments across the country—they had collective bargaining, it’s become pretty evident that he had 17 misconduct complaints and yet remained a member of the Minneapolis Police Department,” Kershner said. “Why? Because when you set up a collective bargaining system, you make it very, very difficult if not impossible to fire individuals.”
“I can point to as many examples of law enforcement agencies that are not unionized that have as many abuses as those that are,” said Supervisor Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn). “You can abuse a system without unions, and you can abuse a system with unions.”
Saines pointed out that several workers’ organizations already exist in Loudoun, such as the Police Benevolent Association and the Loudoun Career Fire Fighters Association, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 3756.
“I’m not sure when unions became a bad word,” Saines said. “If it were not for unions, we would not have a five-day work week, eight-hour days, holidays, paid time off, overtime, child labor laws in place, minimum wage, good benefits for employees—I could go on and on.”
Under the new state law, public employees will also be able to force a vote on whether to allow unions. If a majority of eligible employees ask the local governing body for a vote, that body has 120 days to hold a vote on whether to allow collective bargaining, although nothing can force the local board to approve collective bargaining.
Striking remains unavailable to public employees. Under existing law, employees who strike are considered to have quit their jobs are ineligible for any state or local public job in Virginia for a year.
Supervisors voted 6-3, with Supervisors Letourneau, Kershner and Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) opposed.
“For a very long time there’s been a meta-message in Loudoun County that unions were not welcome, and you have to be really careful to join a union, and I want to change that message,” Randall said.