Loudoun Supervisors Approve Public Employee Union Ordinance

Loudoun County supervisors late Tuesday night set the ground rules for collective bargaining, approving an ordinance that will give unions a strong voice at the table if county employees decide to organize.

Supervisors had long been on track to allow their employees to organize for collective bargaining, but spent months hammering out the details—and more than three hours at their Dec. 7 meeting still working out more details that had cropped up with the ordinance on the fly. But the rules that emerged closely resemble what union advocates have been asking for, with employees permitted to organize in a few large groups, binding arbitration to settle negotiating impasses, and an independent, contracted labor relations administrator administering and interpreting collective bargaining agreements.

County attorneys working on the new ordinance had recommended alternatives that would have kept more power in the hands of supervisors in those negotiations. Giving up absolute authority such as by hiring a third party to interpret a collective bargaining agreement and submitting to binding arbitration made some supervisors nervous.

“I do believe the board should retain the final decision-making authority. I have a lot of discomfort with a third party making the binding decision on any matter,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles).

“We will ultimately vote on the contract for whoever the [labor relations administrator] is, and then after that we have no further involvement in the process. And a lot of those decisions will significantly affect county policy, pay, those sorts of issues, and it will impact tax rates potentially,” said Supervisor Caleb E. Kershner (R-Catoctin). “I was elected by the constituents of Catoctin to weigh in on those issues.”

Supervisors also delayed implementing one part of their new policies as the county works to clearly define who is a “temporary employee.”

“Unions help women, help people of color, help marginalized communities. It helps with retention, every single time,” said County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). “It helps with safety, it helps with safety issues, and when we talk about the cost, we never ever discuss those things We never discuss that retaining employees saves money, safety saves money.”

“Support of unions is not just about wages and benefits, it’s respect, and I think over the last 22 months we have all come to the realization of how much respect we should be giving our front-line workers,” said Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian). “It’s about dignity, it’s about health and safety, and it’s definitely about equity for women and people of color.”

“I think that we’ll find out whether or not working conditions in Loudoun County are what we believe they are from the dais here depending on the how the elections go with the unions,” said Supervisor Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn). “If everybody’s hunky-dory happy, then they’re not going to form unions.”

Under the new ordinance, employees will be able to organize and negotiate in three broad groups: fire and rescue, labor and trades, and general government. To enter collective bargaining, 30% of employees in a group must sign a petition showing interest, triggering an election for an organization to serve as bargaining representative requiring a simple majority vote.

Two organizations are already in place and ready to take up that banner: the Loudoun Career Fire Fighters Association IAFF Local 3756, and the Loudoun Chapter of SEIU Virginia 512.

“We would be able to turn into petition tomorrow,” said IAFF Local 3756 President John Myers. “We have 550 members currently. It’s way more than 30%—it’s about 90%.” However, he said, the group will wait to file a petition while some other existing employment issues are resolved—filing the petition triggers a freeze on changes to employment policies.

Union representatives had asked supervisors for an even stronger ordinance, which would group employees into only two groups: fire and rescue, and other county employees. But Loudoun SEIU chapter President Julius Reynolds said he’s pleased with the result.

“That’s actually what a collective bargaining process should look like,” Reynolds said. “You don’t get everything you want, but you try to reach that happy optimum that’s productive for everybody. So, I’m not mad at that process because that’s actually how it’s supposed to work.”

The SEIU will push to be the representative in both other bargaining units.

“At the end of the day, however you want to classify workers, we are all united together,” said SEIU Virginia 512 President David Broder. “Wherever you work, whatever collar—blue collar, white collar, no collar—everybody needs a living wage. Everybody needs good benefits, everybody needs rights on the job.”

Under the laws governing collective bargaining in Virginia, while all employees of a bargaining unit may benefit from the concessions won through collective bargaining, employees who do not wish to join that union cannot be compelled to pay union dues.

Discussions on the county dais over the new ordinance were notably lacking the acrimony that often surrounds debates about unionization at other levels of government, with even the minority of supervisors opposed to collective bargaining working within the ordinance which they would ultimately oppose to help shape it. Supervisors voted 6-2-1 to pass the new ordinance, with Letourneau and Kershner opposed and Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) absent.

This article was updated Dec. 14 at 6:55 p.m. to correct a quote.

10 thoughts on “Loudoun Supervisors Approve Public Employee Union Ordinance

  • 2021-12-08 at 2:15 pm
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    How many supervisors who received political donations and support from the unions excused themselves from this vote? Does this mean the volunteer members of Loudoun County Combined Fire & Rescue System will be allowed to join the union as they receive benefits from Loudoun County for being volunteer members? Will this be as “great” as some of our supervisors are saying it will be for our county employees?

    • 2021-12-08 at 8:51 pm
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      They are not on the payroll, therefore under the National Labor Relations Act they are not eligible to organize. But I’m sure our BOS will figure out a way around it. They can screw up boiling water.

  • 2021-12-08 at 3:39 pm
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    This is good news for Loudoun County. The supervisors are on the right track. Unions have been a part of America since the 1800s. They’re as American as apple pie. Of course there’s bad in any organization. But for the most part, unions improve working conditions & result in a better work product. Happy Holidays Loudoun!

  • 2021-12-08 at 3:45 pm
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    There is not one, single benefit the residents and taxpayers of Loudoun will see as a result of this.

    In fact, Loudoun’s taxpayers will be forced to pay millions of additional dollars in order for the (D) politicians on the BoS (and in Richmond) to pay off their closest political allies in the unions.

    What an absolutely disgusting move by the (D)s.

  • 2021-12-08 at 7:28 pm
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    How dumb are our supervisors? If they want people to have a living wage then pay them more. Why do they need a union to do their job. In addition this will raise taxes and make the County more unaffordable. The BOS says one thing and then does the opposite. We need more intelligent people on our BOS.

  • 2021-12-08 at 7:33 pm
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    Derek Chauvin who killed george Floyd should have been relieved of his duties years before but his union fought to keep him on the job even though he was not fit. Once unionized – no matter how bad an employee is the union will never let them be fired. Unions will only cost taxpayers more money and give us poorer quality service. Way to go supervisors. Great job screwing the taxpayers again.

  • 2021-12-08 at 8:43 pm
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    “The Supervisors had long been on track to allow their employees organize”. They are not the Supervisor’s employees!

    Have any of these supervisors ever dealt with a union before? Smash and grabs and now unions, and it’s only Dec 8th. When did I move to California?

  • 2021-12-09 at 12:10 am
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    Hopefully, our county government employees are smarter and have more integrity than the supervisors who voted for this. Employees who let DEMs take part of their salaries through forced union dues, no longer make their own choices, they are slaves to the union and DEMs.

  • 2021-12-16 at 1:46 pm
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    As usual a solution to a problem the county didn’t have and of course it’s going to cost taxpayers. This will really attract the dregs to work in Loudoun knowing they can be protected by a union for incompetence and never be fired.

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