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Unions warn Fairfax’s draft collective bargaining ordinance may not go far enough

Fairfax County Board Chairman Jeffrey C. McKay. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

A coalition of labor unions and other advocacy groups are rallying in favor of Fairfax County’s draft collective bargaining ordinance — but warning that the measure may not go far enough to protect public-sector workers in Virginia’s most populous county.

The draft ordinance, which is set to come for a final vote before the Fairfax Board of Supervisors on Oct. 19, would give many of the county’s 12,500 employees the right to negotiate pay and benefits.

After the Virginia General Assembly repealed a ban on government-sector collective bargaining agreements, Arlington County and the city of Alexandria greenlighted the practice for their workers earlier this year. Loudoun County is set to consider the matter later this fall.

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The ordinance sets guidelines for the collective bargaining process, which many labor unions have spent decades fighting to obtain in a state known for its opposition to organized labor. But county lawmakers have not leaned one way or another on several aspects of that process — including who exactly would be included and on what matters unions may bargain.

David Broder, president of SEIU Virginia 512 — which represents public-sector employees in Fairfax and Loudoun — said Fairfax’s draft needs more language giving county workers the rights he feels they deserve, particularly after many employees have played a front-line role during the coronavirus pandemic.

“What we want is a collective bargaining ordinance that’s going to ensure good union jobs and great services for the community,” Broder said.

If approved by the Board of Supervisors, Fairfax employees could vote to unionize. Because Virginia is a “right-to-work state,” eligible employees would not be required to join a labor union or pay union dues.

Broder said that in addition to pay and benefits, Fairfax unions should be able to bargain over disciplinary matters, scheduling and staffing, and health and safety issues.

“The pandemic makes it painfully clear when workers aren’t able to bargain over health and safety standards on the job,” he said.

SEIU and other advocacy groups are also calling for the ordinance to cover temporary employees or new hires under 60-day probation who currently would be excluded from being covered. For instance, a longtime lifeguard who works less than 35 hours a week may not be covered.

At a rally outside the Fairfax County Government Center on Tuesday afternoon, union members dressed in purple spoke about the role collective bargaining had played in their own unions. Several then testified before board members inside.

Board Chair Jeffrey C. McKay (D) said in a statement that the testimony “will help shape the final details of a fair, effective ordinance.”

“County employees are our most important asset,” he said. “Granting county workers a collective bargaining agreement can strengthen the quality of public services we provide, increase staff retention, and ensure that Fairfax is a great place to live and work for all.”