Supervisors Get Look at Collective Bargaining Costs

As county supervisors move toward allowing some sort of unionization or collective bargaining among the local government’s employees, they are also beginning to look at the costs of supporting that new relationship between employer and employee.

The board’s finance committee on Oct. 10 received a report on the predicted costs of two possible arrangements: actual collective bargaining, resulting in a contract between employers and employees; and meet-and-confer, a version in which employers are meant to take the results of those meetings under advisement.

County staff members told supervisors if they pursue meet-and-confer, the county would likely need to hire four new positions, including two in human resources, one additional county attorney, and one analyst in the finance department, at a cost of around a half-million dollars. By contrast, pursuing formalized collective bargaining would mean hiring 12 new positions at a cost of $1.4 million.

Collective bargaining could also come with a third-party labor relations board to settle disputes, costing an estimated $300,000 a year.

Those are also very preliminary estimates, cautioned County Administrator Tim Hemstreet, depending on how supervisors decide to structure either of those relationships, considering variables like how many collective bargaining groups to recognize and what sort of things can be negotiated.

“What you have here is very basic, kind of a beginning structure and proposal,” Hemstreet said. “But … we can get into a very sophisticated proposal, which is very complex, which would then require a lot more resources to manage.”

County staff members have been conferring with other localities in the region that have long experience with unions, such as Montgomery County, MD.

Currently under state law, state and local governments are not allowed to recognize any union or collective bargaining. 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.

Although hundreds of public employees are already union members, some supervisors remain skeptical of the idea of allowing unions into the county government in a formal role.

“One of the things that troubles me the most … is the nature of the relationship between the board and the employees, which right now, I believe, is an open relationship, or a much more open relationship,” said finance committee Chairman Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). “In a collective bargaining atmosphere, it is not. Even as a [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] board member, I know I cannot discuss certain things with the employees.”

He also said collective bargaining agreements would limit the county government’s flexibility. Where Loudoun has been able to freeze salaries to meet the budget challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said some localities have had to renegotiate contracts and others have had to lay employees off.

“I just don’t understand why we would want to put ourselves in a situation like that, which is so heavily restricted, when we don’t have to,” Letourneau said. “At the very least, I would need to hear a lot more from employees than we ever have in terms of some of their concerns.”

But County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said that does not have to be the case.

“I don’t want us to assume the relationship is good when we have not asked the other side of the relationship what they think,” Randall said. “I think that this is a time for those of us who do have relationships with our already established organizations, our associations, it may be a good time to go back and talk about, ‘what would meet and confer look like to you?’”

Supervisors gave no immediate guidance to county staff members, but will have to by the time they begin work on the next county budget.

3 thoughts on “Supervisors Get Look at Collective Bargaining Costs

  • 2020-11-17 at 5:13 pm
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    It should be illegal for our politicians and elected officials to take money, or in-kind support, from unions representing public sector employees. Politicians should be responsible to taxpayers, and not beholden to public employee unions.

  • 2020-11-17 at 5:15 pm
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    If anyone can list out how collective bargaining for County employees is going to help the County, I’d like to hear it. This proposal sounds bad all around with no tangible benefit to the County or its citizens.

  • 2020-11-18 at 7:13 am
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    “I just don’t understand why we would want to put ourselves in a situation like that, which is so heavily restricted, when we don’t have to,” Letourneau said. “At the very least, I would need to hear a lot more from employees than we ever have in terms of some of their concerns.”

    Great point Mr Letourneau!

    This move makes NO SENSE for Loudoun County. It will also cost the county to do something that is not needed.

    Research SEIU and look at the corruption associated with this organization. Real documented corruption. Why would Loudoun bring this cancer into our county? Every board member needs to answer this on the record!!!!

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