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Beyer Throws Weight Behind Labor Unions as Council Punts Collective Bargaining Debate

After a long meeting that stretched into the early hours of Wednesday, the Alexandria City Council punted on a collective bargaining ordinance to an upcoming special meeting.

The meeting, which is not yet officially set, is intended to allow Council members to go through issues line by line. The establishment of a community police review board was also pushed to the same meeting.

Congressman Don Beyer (D-8th) threw his weight behind Alexandria’s unions by speaking for a more inclusive and slowed down process in establishing the collective bargaining ordinance. The city’s draft ordinance limits the scope of bargaining to wages and benefits, and local labor groups say that the proposal is not enough.

“You end up making everybody mad when you kind of go incrementally on big picture issues,” Beyer told Council. “I know that some of the labor leaders have been critical of the first draft of the collective bargaining agreement. I’m not an expert on it, but I would encourage you to try to find a way to make sure that you don’t just win the battle potentially win the war.”

Earlier Tuesday, Beyer, voted in Congress favor of federal legislation granting more bargaining rights to unions.

Josh Turner, president of the Alexandria Fire Fighters Inc. and International Association of Firefighters Local 2141, said that the city’s proposal is counterproductive and restrictive.

“The current city proposals are so narrow and restricted to the process of collaborative problem solving, they would be counterproductive to the prospects of expanding the firefighters voice, just focusing on wages and benefits locks the door on improving public safety services, the services that benefit all residents,” Turner told Council. “I’m glad to city wants to be among the first in the Commonwealth to pass a collective bargaining ordinance. However, on behalf of the city’s labor organizations, I ask that instead of passing a narrow version of collective bargaining proposed by the city’s administration, you demand that the city pass an ordinance that gives employees a real voice and a seat at the table.”

Collective bargaining was made possible with passage House Bill 582 last year, and Governor Ralph Northam postponed its implementation until May 2021 due to the pandemic.

The scope of bargaining remains chief among the issues complicating the passage of the ordinance.

City staff were asked last month to go back to the drawing board by reengaging with unions and employee organizations on the scope of bargaining, the number of bargaining units, the exclusion of public safety supervisors from bargaining units, the selection of the labor relations administrator and where staff stands on mediations in the event of an impasse with the city manager’s office.

While Alexandria already engages in collective bargaining with the DASH transit company, Cynthia Hudson, an attorney hired by the city to draft the ordinance, says that the city should take a cautious approach to the issue given its limited experience and only focus on negotiating over wages and benefits, and then expand negotiating if warranted by council at a later date.

“We simply were not able to meaningfully come together on that,” Hudson said. “The staff still stands by the recommendation of wages and benefits to start.”

Even though the matter has been pushed to the special meeting, Councilman Canek Aguirre said that the city does yet have to decide on the matter.

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