City Council commits to support collective bargaining with fire department union

City Council and firefighters gather for collective bargaining agreement (image via AlexandriaVAGov/Twitter)

After years of discussion and debate, Alexandria’s City Council unanimously voted to approve a resolution funding a collective bargaining agreement between the City of Alexandria and the local firefighters union.

The agreement includes funding for many of the problems raised by Alexandria firefighters over recent years, from long hours to improved infrastructure.

The agreement with International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 2141 (IAFF Local 2141) comes on the heels of a collective bargaining agreement approved in 2021. The agreement is the first collective bargaining agreement in Virginia between a locality and a firefighter union since 1970.

The agreements include investments in employee pay, salaries at or above market, and a framework for an annual adjustment to pay scales.

According to a release from the City of Alexandria:

  • Competitive, market-rate salary increases.
  • Pathway to reduced hours in the work week.
  • Assurance of ongoing investments in City facilities and safety initiatives.
  • Continued access to the City’s benefits package.

The total cost for the wages and other costs under the agreement is $3.5 million in fiscal year 2024 with an additional $13.9 million over the next three years. The agreement also includes a commitment to hiring more firefighters and medics; totaling a $2.4 million cost for FY 2024 and $13.5 million over the next three years.

It’s been a long road to city approval with several very vocal conflicts between IAFF Local 2141 and the city.

That conflict sometimes drove a wedge between firefighters and Fire Chief Corey Smedley, but at the City Council meeting last night city leaders and IAFF Local 2141 leadership were quick to adopt a unified posture.

“To Local 2141: I admire your tenacity as you negotiated for our department,” said Smedley. “Your hard work and determination is reflected in this agreement. We are one team, which should resonate throughout the city that we share common goals in pursuit of continuous improvement.”

City Manager James Parajon lauded the work of IAFF Local 2141, despite past disagreements between the union and the city.

“I want to recognize [IAFF Local 2141 President] Josh Turner and the rest of his bargaining unit,” said Parajon. “We talk a lot about staffing; on our partner’s side it was our firefighters doing the hard legwork it takes to do an agreement like this. That’s hard to do, especially in circumstances where many of them are working through the night and show up at bargaining sessions in the morning.”

City Council members expressed their support for the new agreement.

“One of the first groups of folks I sat down with were our firefighters and medics,” said City Council member Alyia Gaskins. “I got to hear a lot of their stories… I heard about their passion, their commitment. At the same time, probably the most painful part of the conversation is when I heard them talk about how they felt they were working for a city that didn’t want to help or serve them as much as they wanted to help.”

City Council member John Chapman got emotional in discussing the work of Alexandria firefighters and sharing appreciation for the work they put into the agreement:

My son is two years old, turning three next month, and has no less than 30 or 40 types of items related to firefighters… and it’s because you guys, to this community, are magical. Any boy or girl that sees the truck and hears the sirens going off, they turn and look with such a display of awe… Sometimes we’ve put you in a place where it’s more sacrifice than others in your industry… We don’t say this a lot to our employees, but we love you. As a young father, seeing one of you come up and talk about the time away from your family you give willingly, sometimes begrudgingly, but you do it as dedication to your craft knowing you are impacting lives. It’s so meaningful.

Turner, a captain in the Alexandria Fire Department, was one of those who had been leading the charge toward collective bargaining for years.

“It’s a very historic day,” Turner said. “The most important thing is: this contract is about our community. It speaks to the values of our community, that this is a priority, that this is a progressive community, and sets us up for success not only in the labor market but also for our department moving forward.”

Photo via AlexandriaVAGov/Twitter