Alexandria City Council unanimously adopts collective bargaining ordinance

After months of fine-tuning, the Alexandria City Council unanimously passed a collective bargaining ordinance on Saturday. Its passage was praised by Alexandria’s employee unions as a step forward in employee rights.

“I want to thank you, the members of the City Council, for moving for an ordinance that allows employees voices to be heard,” Josh Turner, president of the Alexandria Fire Fighters Inc. and International Association of Firefighters Local 2141, told Council.

The city is now the first Northern Virginia jurisdiction to pass the measure for employee rights and wages since Governor Ralph Northam announced a statewide implementation of the law will go into effect on May 1. It resembles the Federal Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act in scope, which is a common model for collective bargaining in the region.

“This has definitely been a collective ordinance that we’ve been trying to put together,” City Councilman Canek Aguirre said. “I think it’s something really strong to start off with. And, of course, as we already have the language in there if we need to come back and make amendments or adjustments we will do so, and I am looking forward to having those conversations to be able to improve upon ordinance.”

There was one point of contention, however, when unions requested that the number of bargaining units be reduced. In their proposal, City staff added additional bargaining units for certain managers, including captains and lieutenants in the police and fire departments. That means that their potential labor disputes would be separate from other employees within the same organization.

“Alexandria firefighters and paramedics oppose the city staff’s recommendation to split up the fire and emergency medical services bargaining unit, and creating a separate supervisory unit,” Turner said. “Firefighters and paramedics did not recommend this and in fact we are vehemently opposed to it.”

Council later reduced the number of bargaining units, while staff warned that conflicts can arise when supervisors and employees share bargaining units. Under 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.

The ordinance is the first of its kind since the 1970s, since collective bargaining was barred by the Virginia Supreme Court.

“It’s really great step forward for our employees, and they provide the quality of life that we all here enjoy,” City Councilman Mo Seifeldein said.

One city employee said that essential workers be rewarded for their work during the pandemic.

“It is through the spirit of collaboration, mutual respect, valuing the contributions of our public service professionals that will enable the city of Alexandria to not only weather this storm of the global pandemic, but also continue to rise to meet the future challenges that we may face,” the employee told Council.

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