Under a new Arlington wage and benefits proposal, James Churchill, a trash hauler, would bring home a two-week paycheck of $278.28, a total that would be $4.99 less than he currently makes.
"I already have to borrow (from friends, family and the credit union) money to live from one week to another," Churchill said the other day. "Now they want to cut back. I just can't afford it."
Churchill is among thousands of public employees in Northern Virginia who are upset with wage and benefits proposals currently being offered by local government officials. They blame the Virginia Supreme Court for their plight: collective bargaining was outlawed for the state's public employees last January by a unanimous Supreme Court decision. The ruling was made in a suit brought by Gov. Mills E. Godwin contesting the legality of public employees bargaining in Virginia.
Unions that represented an estimated 12,075 city and county employees in Northern Virginia no longer can negotiate labor contracts. Local officials no longer are required to consider counter proposals by unions. There is no one any longer to arbitrate a settlement when there is a pay or benefits dispute.
By May in previous years, before the court decision, "we could have negotiated some type of equitable settlement," said Richard Cronin, president of the Fairfax County Firefighters Association. "Now, we're just at the mercy (of local governments) and have to take what they give us."
Local government officials said that union leaders and public employees continue to voice their views on wage and benefits proposals. These officials point to the budget and civil service hearing to which public employees were invited to participate.
However, employees and union leaders said the hearings were not an adequate means of presenting their views to officials and that seemingly little attention was given to their opinions.
Fairfax "is standing on its authority," Cronin said. "They have no intention of dealing with employees and employee groups. They (county officials) are saying (the employees) will take what (the county) gives them."
"We wanted a 10 per cent increase" (in wages and benefits) and look what we're getting," said Joe Cronin, president of the Alexandria Firefighters Association and Richard Cronin's brother. Alexandria officials have proposed a 4 per cent pay increase for city employees, "Four per cent is inadequate," Joe Cronin said.
In Arlington, County Manager W. Vernon Ford has proposed pay increases ranging from 3 per cent for police and fire employees to 6 per cent for management employees.
Ford said the pay increases "are to provide equity among employees . . . Equity this year does not mean uniformity." He said that in previous years management employees had not received as big a pay increase as lower-level workers.
"We're just appalled that he (Ford) could present such an inequitable proposal," said Grace Bottomly, a clerical employee and president of the Arlington Association of Professional Clerical Worker. "Inequities already exist and he is just making it worse . . . Our cost of living increased just like management. It's unfair to give them (management-employees) so much and we get so little."
Clerical employees - the majority of whom earn less than $10,000 annually, according to Bottomly - would receive a 4 per cent pay increase under Ford's proposal.
The Labor Department reported last week that an urban family of four in the Washington metropolitan area needs $10,650 a year for an "austere" standard of living.
Under Ford's wage and benefits proposal, county employees also would have to increase their contribution to their medical insurance plan from 5 per cent to 15 per cent, a $7-a-week increase. Arlington now pays 95 per cent of an employee's medical insurance.
Some county employees said they can't afford to pay more toward the medical insurance plan, which is rapidly increasing in cost.
"For years, we have foregone a pay increase in order to get the county to increase its contribution to the medical insurance plan," said Leroy Grayson, a public works employee.
In Fairfax, County Executive Leonard Whorton proposed a 5 per cent pay increase for county employees, while the County School Board has recommended a 5.4 per cent pay increase for school employees.
"I would hope that we would treat everyone equally," said Fairfax County Board Chairman John F. Herrity, without specifying how much of an increase county workers should receive.
Officials in Alexandria and Arlington and Fairfax counties have not made final decisions on the wage and benefits proposals. Some union leaders and public employees said they plan to attend board meetings to try to persuade board members to increase wages and benefits in the proposals.
"In prior years, I have never appeared before the (Arlington) County Board to talk about wages, hours and benefits," said Peter J. Moralis, executive director of Virginia Employees Council 30 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFL-CIO). "Now you negotiate with the whole damn County Board."