The Loudoun County Career Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 3756, has filed a petition with overwhelming support to begin collective bargaining.
Under state law passed last year, county employees may petition the Board of Supervisors for collective bargaining. The county board isn’t required to then enter a collective bargaining agreement, but a majority on the Loudoun board has pushed for allowing employees to unionize.
The county’s ordinance requires at least 30% of the employees in one of the defined bargaining units—fire-rescue employees, labor and trades employees, or general county employees—to sign a petition to start the process. IAFF President John Myers said their petition was signed by closer to 90% of them.
“I think that the biggest opportunity we have here is really to get the collective voice of the actual employees and see what’s important to them, and get that hopefully built into a contract, and at the same time work together with county leadership and management to make sure it’s a cohesive and a productive process, and not something that’s in any way hostile,” Myers said.
The firefighters union had been putting off submitting its petition as they worked through another employment issue, to do with fire-rescue officers not being given credit for their years of service when the county calculated their relatively recent step and grade pay scales. That issue has been resolved, with officers moving up the pay scale to reflect their years of service. Myers said submitting a petition before that was worked out would have triggered a status-quo period, stopping the work.
“It took a lot of political lobbying and a lot of meetings and such to get that work forward,” he said.
The Loudoun IAFF is one of the largest such organizations in the area, with more than 500 members. The county’s ordinance may in fact expand the roster for the IAFF—traditionally it has included firefighters, but the bargaining unit folds in other employees such as in the Fire Marshal’s Office and the Emergency Communications Center. The IAFF could end up representing them, too.
Previously those employees lacked some of the protections firefighters had even without collective bargaining, such as the right to bring legal representation if their department puts them under investigation.
The IAFF will now put together a collective bargaining committee, which will work to figure out what are the most important issues and priorities to its members. That will inform the negotiating when they meet with the county.
“We want to make sure it’s not just what I want, but what the members want,” he said.
Meanwhile, the petition will be verified by Loudoun’s labor relations administrator, a contracted firm that will then establish a procedure for a secret mail-ballot election to select a collective bargaining representative, or none if a majority of employees vote against organizing. Once a representative is selected—likely the local IAFF—they negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the labor relations administrator, with final approval falling to the Board of Supervisors.