Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors returned to in-person meetings, beginning with committee meetings in the Board Auditorium. Pre-pandemic, committee meetings were held in, and televised from, the Edward L. Long Conference Room at the Government Center in Fairfax, which can seat about 180 people.

For the past year, meetings were conducted virtually, with only Board Chairman Jeff McKay, the relevant committee chairperson, the County Executive and the County Attorney in the room, along with technical personnel present. The room was designed with camera operators in an adjacent location, which seems prescient now in light of pandemic social distancing.

Meeting in the Board Auditorium made the committee discussions a little more formal, as Board members were arrayed in their usual seats, separated by plexiglass panels between each chair. The dais itself can be a bit intimidating, a curve of dark mahogany rising up from the well, with large brass nameplates designating each of 16 seats (the dais was built in 1992 to accommodate the clerk, County Attorney, and County Executive, as well as room for expansion if the number of Board seats increased). The plexiglass dividers still make whispered verbal asides difficult but, on the brighter side, virtual meetings made them impossible!

The loss of that human touch was one of the great disappointments of the pandemic.

The Personnel and Reorganization Committee, which I chair, met to discuss collective bargaining. The Virginia General Assembly enacted enabling legislation in its 2020 regular session that granted localities the option to adopt collective bargaining ordinances, so a lot of discussion has been underway among Northern Virginia jurisdictions. The 2020 legislation had a delayed effective date of May 1, 2021, and expressly prohibits strikes by public employees.

The enabling legislation removing the Commonwealth’s decades-long prohibition against collective bargaining, is quite short — just 31 lines — and does not address what should, or could, be in a local ordinance.

Prior to Tuesday’s committee meeting, a collective bargaining work group, composed of county and school employee group representatives, held three robust virtual meetings to discuss the process and the scope of potential ordinance language. Limited scope or everything on the table? Number of bargaining units? How to resolve an impasse?

A Virginia Supreme Court decision banned collective bargaining for public employees in 1977, so developing an ordinance is a new experience for most county staff and elected officials. Collective bargaining may be well-practiced in many other states, but it is new ground here in the Commonwealth.

Interestingly, the enabling legislation specifically exempted Constitutional officers (the Sheriff and Commonwealth’s Attorney) and their employees from collective bargaining, and also does not apply to state employees. Fairfax County Public Schools will develop its own resolution and collective bargaining language, most likely on a longer timeline.
As work continues on a draft ordinance for county employees, it is anticipated that a public hearing will be held early this fall.

Memorial Day honors individuals we have lost, in battle or not. This weekend’s observance also commemorates the hundreds of thousands of souls lost to Covid-19 across the country.

As pool parties and barbecues mark the renewal of summer activities, let’s remember families whose picnic tables are missing a beloved member because of the pandemic. Stay safe, masked and socially-distanced when appropriate, and welcome summer!

Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]