The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on Oct. 13 to consider a draft ordinance that would permit the county to engage in collective bargaining discussions with labor unions and public employee associations.
Julius Reynolds, a county employee for more than 20 years and chair of the Loudoun County Chapter of the labor group SEIU Virginia 512, which represents county employees, said the chapter is uplifted by the board’s vote.
“By providing workers a real voice to negotiate our pay, benefits, and working conditions, collective bargaining empowers employees and improves services for residents,” Reynolds said in a prepared statement.
“We need and deserve collective bargaining in Loudoun County,” he said. “We are heartened by the vote this evening and thank Chair Randall, Vice Chair Saines, and our other elected allies on the board. Essential county workers look forward to seeing their commitment become reality in the very near future.”
Supervisors Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), Caleb Kershner (R-Catoctin) and Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) voted against the motion, which passed 6-3 on Tuesday night following weeks of delay.
The ordinance, if passed, would allow county employees, such as firefighters, maintenance workers, mental health nurses and librarians to enter into collective bargaining with the county.
Other measures the board passed with the same 6-3 margin include the board’s support for adopting a local ordinance and direction for staff to include in the draft ordinance a provision that certification of a labor union as the exclusive bargaining representative of a bargaining unit requires the majority (50% plus one eligible employee) of employees in such unit to vote in an election.
Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) recommended labor unions, specifically SEIU, focus on the growth of their memberships. She said after the board authorized membership information drives in a few county buildings, there was little interest except for a virtual membership drive.
One reason for that, she said, is for a number of years employees feared backlash for joining unions.
“Join the union, don’t join the union, there will be no backlash,” Randall said.
“If we want to give the message that it is okay to join the union, then that’s the work that the union has to do themselves,” she said.
Letourneau and Kershner said they wished the board would instead require the majority of the bargaining union members to be able to vote on a final agreement, rather than union representatives deciding for the majority.
“I think we should require at least 50% of the employees — that’s a majority of a particular bargaining union — participate before they go down that road,” Kershner said.
“If we’re going to treat them like adults, we should at least allow the majority of the full unit to decide who they choose and how they get into a collective bargaining [agreement],” he said.
Letourneau added that “some of them will make a choice to not participate in the election for reasons that we can’t pretend to know, and they shouldn’t necessarily have to abide by what’s decided for them in that circumstance.”
The draft ordinance, supervisors said, should only allow for the release of employee personal contact information to labor unions on an “opt in” basis only. Further, supervisors said impact bargaining during an emergency should occur at the sole discretion of the county administrator in consultation with the chair and/or the board’s designated representatives.
On May 1, Virginia counties, cities and towns were permitted to enter into collective bargaining agreements with labor unions as a bargaining agent for public employees following legislation passed in March by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam (D).
Constitutional officers and their employees are excluded from coverage.
The board has authorized eight new full-time positions for collective bargaining support, according to an April 20 staff report. All of the positions and $300,000 in recurring contractual costs to support and administer a bargaining structure are fully funded in the fiscal 2022 budget.
Sixty-eight percent of Virginia voters said they support allowing collective bargaining rights for public employees, according to a Dec. 10, 2020 study by The Wason Center at Christopher Newport University. Twenty-five percent said they oppose it.
On Sept. 21, the board will meet in closed session to discuss legal issues surrounding the draft local ordinance ahead of the Oct. 13 public hearing.