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With collective bargaining off table until this fall, Alexandria’s public safety agencies are asking for raises now

A fire truck in Alexandria (file photo by Jay Westcott)

(Update at 2:45 p.m.) It’s no secret that Alexandria’s public safety agencies want a raise in the upcoming city budget, but if they are to get a compensation increase it will be outside of the boundaries of collective bargaining.

After more than a year of organizing, the elections for collective bargaining representation for the city’s first responders will be held between Feb. 5 and Feb. 22. But with a staffing crisis and compensation issues within the Fire Department, Police Department and Sheriff’s Office, it will not be until 2024 until negotiations will be fruitful.

“If we get more than 50% then we’re then officially allowed to negotiate with the city of Alexandria around anything labor related,” Jeremy McClayton, an organizer for the International Association of Firefighters’ Local 2141 union, told ALXnow. “This is the step we need to take that actually get to the negotiating table this fall. Benefits, wages, operational procedures, time off requests and more, and that would take place likely from March until October.”

The Alexandria Democratic Committee has even put forward a resolution calling for a 10% pay increase for the employees to “maintain the current expectation of
response time and level of public safety.”

“Alexandria Firefighters Union IAFF Local 2141 sent a letter requesting a pay increase that states that the City needs to put forward the funding to hire an additional
70 personnel, while also improving the salaries, benefits and working conditions for current employees to prevent their departures for other jurisdictions,” reads the resolution, which is supported by City Council members Aalyia Gaskins, Kirk McPike and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney David Lord.

The resolution continues.

“This underfunding and understaffing clearly affect public safety as they prevent the Fire Department from adequately staffing rescue vehicles, and possibly leading to the necessity of closing one fire station.

Whereas the Fire Department had to perform extra duties during the pandemic, handling covid patients, and manning testing sites, and Police have also had to perform extra duties, while also experiencing issues of schools reopening, and an increase in violent crimes due to the economic hardship, isolation and mental stress during Covid. The Sheriff’s Office staff has also certainly faced additional issues with Covid in managing inmates in the city’s jail.

The city imposed a pay and hiring freeze during the pandemic, and after more than a year of operating under a City Emergency, all city and state employees got a 1% bonus and merit increases were restored with the passage of the fiscal year 2022 budget. In a rare event, the City also provided city employees with a 1.5% salary increase and $3,000 bonuses at the end of the 2021 calendar year.

“While most of these challenges must wait to be addressed during an upcoming budget process, the Council did vote last month to allocate surplus money from the previous fiscal year and a portion of our second tranche of American Rescue Plan funds to provide new funding to our employees,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “The package that the Council adopted included an extremely-rare mid-year 1.5% salary increase for all City employees, a $3,000 bonus to all employees, and targeted increases for several positions in the Police, Fire and Sheriff’s Departments.”

“(T)he city has passed a collective bargaining agreement which won’t go into effect until after the next budget, it is important to address these issues now,” the fire department’s union said in another resolution. “It is important that the city responds in good faith before collective bargaining begins for a multi-year contract.”

Ben Saks, president of the International Union of Police Associations Local 5, says that his union has voiced concerns for months.

“The only way to resolve the staffing crisis is to provide a competitive salary, otherwise current officers and potential applicants will continue to go elsewhere in the region,” Saks said. “Our staffing continues to plummet, so we are asking for a 10% across the board salary increase in the FY23 budget.”

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