Loudoun supervisors on Tuesday voted to see an ordinance that would bring collective bargaining to the county government’s employees.
A new state law going into effect on May 1 allows local governments to recognize public employee unions. The law will allow employees to petition the local government for a vote, but does not let them force collective bargaining—the local governing body would then hold a vote to decide whether to recognize unions, and if so, what sort of discussions to have with them. Doing so also requires the board to adopt a local ordinance.
Loudoun County administrators have said they expect to see the first petition filed on or shortly after May 1. Supervisors plan to have an ordinance ready in May, anticipating that petition from their employees, and have already approved eight new positions in the county budget to support collective bargaining.
With a vote April 20 to write an ordinance enabling collective bargaining, a majority on the Board of Supervisors sought to take off the table a non-binding version, meet-and-confer, or an option to deny collective bargaining. The debate now moves to how Loudoun’s collective bargaining ordinance will be written, which will govern what is open for union negotiations.
An example ordinance provided to the Board of Supervisors by the county attorney’s office raised concerns among existing union leadership.
“Collective bargaining allows for collaborative decision-making between the experts who deliver services and county administrators who oversee programs,” said John Myers, a longtime firefighter and president of the IAFF 3756, the Loudoun Career Fire Fighters Association. “This type of teamwork—frontline professionals working with managers—benefits all our residents and makes our fire department better.”
But the example ordinance supervisors saw April 20, he told them, falls short of that idea.
“Among other things, the draft ordinance put forth by the county inappropriately narrows the scope of collective bargaining to just some wages and benefits; installs a Labor Relations Administrator who will not be a true, fair, neutral decision maker but instead would be beholden to and controlled by the county administrator; and creates a complex procedure which makes it unnecessarily difficult for a labor organization to be certified as the exclusive representatives,” Myers said.
Members of the Service Employees International Union Virginia 512, which represents hundreds of county employees, also expressed concern, arguing none represent traditional collective bargaining and calling the example ordinance incorrectly named.
“Meaningful collective bargaining is a valuable tool to build productive and mutually beneficial labor-management relationships that improve the delivery of public services and the quality of work-life for county employees,” said Julius Reynolds, chair of the Loudoun County Chapter of SEIU Virginia 512. “Meaningful collective bargaining allows employees to provide input without fear of retribution or discrimination.”
Supervisors were divided along party lines on allowing collective bargaining for Loudoun’s public employees.
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said Loudoun’s Board of Supervisors “has clearly demonstrated the way forward” with pay increases, a new job classification system and benefits increases over the past several years.
“What we’re really talking about is a fundamental change in the nature of the partnership that exists,” Letourneau said. “I believe we can engage our employees. I believe we should engage our employees and have conversations, as was just said, but I don’t believe we have to lock ourselves into a relationship that by its very nature can be contentious.”
County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), a former local government employee, said in that time, “a lot of things happened that I didn’t complain about, because there was no there was no structure to have that that discussion.”
“We did correct a lot of things in Loudoun County last term,” Randall said. ”[…] A lot of things had to be corrected, but the fact that they had to be corrected is in and of itself an issue. The fact that our employees were the lowest-paid employees in the COG [Northern Virginia] region was in and of itself an issue. The fact that our [Department of Family Services] employees had the highest caseloads in Virginia is in and of itself an issue. And the way that you don’t have that again, over many boards, is collective bargaining.”
Supervisors supported the measure on a 6-3 vote, with Letourneau and Supervisors Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin) and Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) opposed.
The vote does not yet begin collective bargaining in Loudoun—that cannot happen before May 1, the day the new state law goes into effect.
Already, many Loudoun government workers are members of unions. The Service Employees International Union Virginia 512 counts more than 200 Loudoun County employees among its members, and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 is currently fighting to stop a new county contractor from taking away benefits from transit workers.