Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

Labor Day has been observed since the late 1800s, when President Grover Cleveland signed a proclamation for a federal holiday.

Ironically, that first-Monday-in-September holiday was for federal employees only, but 30 states picked up the flag, literally and figuratively, to celebrate workers and the contributions they make to our country and our economy.

Nationwide, parades and picnics now mark the holiday, along with preparations to return to school and regular routines.

Labor Day in Virginia may take new meaning for the Commonwealth’s local governments, as the General Assembly enacted legislation last year that will permit localities to adopt collective bargaining ordinances for public employees.
For Virginia, this is essentially new ground, since collective bargaining for public employees was struck down by a court decision in the early 1970s.

The new legislation specifically exempts the employees of the courts and constitutional officers (Office of the Sheriff and the Commonwealth’s Attorney) from collective bargaining, and bars strikes and other job actions by public employees.

An employee’s membership in a union is optional; the legislation does not force anyone to join a labor union or pay membership dues.

Last fall, Fairfax County began the lengthy process to create a Collective Bargaining Ordinance.

Multiple conversations (virtual meetings allowed all employee groups to participate and be heard) were held with county and school employee group representatives to explain the ordinance process and discuss what might be included in a draft document.

Following the group discussions, the Board of Supervisors’ Personnel Committee, which I chair, met during several public sessions in the months of March, May, June and July to review the staff’s discussion draft.

The 23-page draft ordinance is scheduled for a public hearing at the Sept. 14, 2021 Board of Supervisors meeting. (The draft is posted on-line at fairfaxcounty.gov/hr/collective-bargaining.)

Adoption of a collective bargaining ordinance is the first step in a longer process.

The ordinance outlines several steps that must be accomplished before collective bargaining negotiations may commence.

Three pages of the draft enumerate the appointment of a Labor Relations Administrator (LRA), experienced as a neutral in the field of labor relations and the duties of the LRA.

The draft also identifies three bargaining units: for police, fire and emergency medical services, and general government.

An exclusive bargaining agent for each bargaining unit must be selected by the employees in that unit, and a timeline is outlined in the draft — which also prescribes a secret ballot election and provides for mail-in balloting.

Worker protections have been the focus of labor unions for more than a century in this country.

Gone are the six-day-a-week work schedules, with no paid time off, as well as the use of child labor and minimal worker compensation — things that predestined American workers to poverty for generations.

Today’s work schedules, health care and retirement benefits and compensation can be counted among the labor movement’s successful efforts in both the public and the private sector.

This Labor Day, as we observe the end of summer and prepare for more normal routines, we also can look forward to a collective bargaining process that has been denied to local government employees for far too long in Virginia.

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