Your Views: Public employee bargaining rights

Your Views: Public employee bargaining rights
Alexandria City Hall. (file photo)

To the editor:

As City Council prepares to enact its new ordinance extending collective bargaining rights to our dedicated public servants, it is important to understand that the right of “public sector” employees to collectively bargain is a positive and productive way to manage the City’s workforce.

To be able to negotiate agreements covering the basic terms and conditions of employment for a large swath of the workforce is much more efficient than having to deal with each worker on an employee-by-employee, subjective basis that is susceptible to favoritism, encourages obsequiousness and results in poor workplace morale.

Some opponents of collective bargaining have stated that it costs too much or that it may result in delays in the delivery of essential services. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I have spent more than two decades negotiating labor contracts in the private sector, and I’ve consistently found that most resistance to collective bargaining is not over economic costs, but rather over the prospect of sharing power.

Moreover, concerns over the delivery of essential services are a red herring. One only needs to recall the heroic efforts of the 9-11 first responders in New York City, or the brave teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School or even the Giant grocery store workers here in Alexandria who never missed a beat during the COVID-19 pandemic. All are union workers.

There are two topics that must be included in the city’s new ordinance: first, the scope of topics to be negotiated must not be confined to wages and benefits. To do so misses the point of collective bargaining. Non-economic terms of employment are of value to the parties and tend to be minimal in cost. To sacrifice these terms is a recipe for disaster and will prove to be costly.

Second, any legitimate collective bargaining agreement must include an independent and impartial mechanism for resolving disputes. A binding decision rendered by a neutral third party lends credibility and predictability to the process.

I am proud to call Alexandria home, and want our city employees to be equally proud to work for us. Make our city workers proud, let them gain the respect and dignity they deserve, which true collective bargaining will offer them.

-Matt Harris, Alexandria