By Will Schick | [email protected]
City Council unanimously voted to docket a proposed collective bargaining agreement for final consideration at the April 17 public hearing during its special meeting on March 17.
Over the past month, employee unions representing city workers have pressed council to make changes to the proposed collective bargaining agreement, which provided city employees the right to negotiate wages and benefits but did not cover working conditions.
Collective bargaining, which is the legal process by which employees negotiate their wages, benefits, and working conditions with their employers, has long been practiced in 47 states, but it has remained outlawed in Virginia and two other states.
A law passed by the General Assembly last year, however, will allow municipalities throughout the state to establish their own ordinances starting on May 1.
A number of members of the public spoke out at the hearing in favor of expanding the scope of the ordinance beyond wages and benefits.
State Delegate Mark Levine (D-Alexandria) was among those at the hearing who urged council to adopt an ordinance that explicitly covered working conditions.
“I think that collective bargaining has to be meaningful,” Levine said. “It can’t just be about wages and benefit. It has to be about having a meaningful chance to present issues of safety, to present issues of discipline to make sure everyone’s getting their fair shake.”
James Rodriguez, president of the local 3001 chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the proposed ordinance does not cover what many municipalities across the country have made standard in collective bargaining agreements.
“[Public employees] deserve an ordinance that is true to collective bargaining and includes a standard scope of bargaining beyond wages and benefits,” Rodriguez said. “Cities and towns and municipalities across this country have ordinances that are expansive and include at the minimum, these basic provisions.”
The revised ordinance now includes amendments submitted by Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker which cover some aspects of working conditions that were previously omitted. Bennett-Parker’s proposed additions include provisions for covering employee grievance procedures and resolving impasse procedures between the city and unions. It also expands the scope of the employees covered.
Notably, the new draft ordinance strips the city manager of the sole authority to dismiss the labor rights administrator without mutual agreement from the labor groups that administrator represents.
Council members also added changes to the number and structure of “bargaining units,” which are meant to represent municipal employees across a range of occupations. The amended ordinance now proposes five bargaining units that encompass: police, fire and emergency medical services; labor and trades; professional and technical; administrative; and clerical. Previously, the ordinance covered four bargaining units.
Mayor Justin Wilson said it was important to note that council will seek public input on the revised ordinance before taking any legislative action.
“Let me be clear to the public … the farthest we can go today is to introduce these ordinances and get them docketed for a public hearing where we will hear from you again,” Wilson said.
After further discussion, council unanimously voted to docket the revised ordinance for a final vote during April 17 public hearing.