The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors (BOS) voted six to three to draft a collective bargaining ordinance enabling labor unions to represent county staff in negotiations with the county. County staff proposed drafting the ordinance, noting that a new law going into effect in May enables employee organizations to petition the county for formal union status. However, the law allows localities to decide for themselves whether they will recognize those organizations. As May approaches, other localities in Virginia are considering similar action; Alexandria has already adopted an ordinance allowing collective bargaining.
“These changes will remove the prohibition against public sector employers recognizing labor unions, or engaging in collective bargaining with labor unions,” Loudoun County Human Resources Director Jeanette Green said. “The board does not have to take any action at this time. However, once the new law takes effect on May 1, should the county receive a certification from a labor union stating that they represent a majority of employees in an appropriate bargaining unit, under the new law, the board would be required to take a vote within 120 days of receiving that certification on whether or not to adopt an ordinance authorizing collective bargaining.”
Greene said she knew of two organizations who were likely to submit certificates to the county. She said, “As such, staff is recommending that the board be pro-active and take a vote prior to May one to determine whether the county will recognize labor unions, and if so in what manner.”
Greene presented three potential ordinances. One would merely ban collective bargaining altogether. Another model would allow the county to enter into a traditional binding format of collective bargaining. The other creates a meet-and-confer style of collective bargaining that is not formal and binding; instead, county management would consider feedback from the union when making certain decisions.
Chair Phyllis Randall introduced a motion asking staff to prepare an ordinance authorizing traditional collective bargaining to be presented to the BOS for consideration in May.
She argued that it wasn’t the BOS’ job to parent county employees and look after them, instead, the BOS should involve county employees in discussions. She cited pay raises the county recently granted its employees to address high turnover and make county employment competitive with other area counties. According to a 2019 article from Loudoun Now, new pay scales started at $27,316, and went up to $306,000.
“We did correct a lot of things in Loudoun County in the last term,” Randall said. “But the fact that they had to be corrected was in and of itself an issue. ”
She added, “The way you don’t have that again over many Boards is collective bargaining.”
Supervisor Matthew Letourneau said, “I will respectfully disagree with my colleague. The way that we don’t have those things is as a governing body to ensure that we don’t have those things. We do not have to have collective bargaining to not be in a situation where our employees fall behind. And in fact, the board has clearly demonstrated the way forward: by listening to employees whenever concerns have been brought up, and by addressing them through various processes that have resulted in significant pay increases and entirely new classification systems and major benefits increases, all of which were not bargains.”
He said he doesn’t know what would be brought up by unions, since the BOS and county management already address any concerns brought to them by employees, and that collective bargaining would just contractually lock the county into a potentially contentious relationship with unions.
He said, “What we are really talking about is a fundamental change in the nature of the partnership that exists. I believe we can engage our employees. I believe we should engage our employees and have conversations as was just said, but I don’t believe we have to lock ourselves into a relationship that by its very nature can be contentious.”
He also said enabling collective bargaining would be expensive and would take costs that could otherwise be distributed directly to employees.
Supervisor Caleb Kershner argued for the informal meet-and-confer option. “This is going to cost us several million dollars,” he said. “But that several million dollars could be divided among our employees, and yet we’re going to have to spend much of it on administrative costs, lawyers, et cetera.”
Randall’s motion passed, with Letourneau, Kershner, and Supervisor Tony Buffington voting against it. The BOS will consider a draft of a traditional union-style collective bargaining ordinance in May.
– – –