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Va. officials consider allowing collective bargaining by city employees

A Virginia Beach task force made recommendations regarding bargaining units, salaries and working conditions


A Virginia Beach Fire Department apparatus is parked at the Harry E. Diezel Fire Training Center in Virginia Beach, Va. on Tuesday, May 23, 2023.

Kendall Warner / The Virginian-Pilot

By Stacy Parker
The Virginian-Pilot

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The City Council has not yet considered whether to allow collective bargaining by city employees, but a task force has completed its report on what those negotiations could entail.

The Virginia Beach City Council has been approached by multiple employee associations expressing interest in organizing collective bargaining agreements since 2021. However, the city has not yet received certification from a majority of public employees in a unit requesting collective bargaining, which would require a formal vote on the matter.

Earlier in 2023, at the urging of Mayor Bobby Dyer, the City Council decided to create a task force to make recommendations on the scope of the bargaining and the number of units. The 11-member task force in Virginia Beach was comprised of leaders of city workforce unions, two former police and fire chiefs and former City Council member Jim Wood.

It began to meet in September and concluded its work Nov. 17 . A copy of the report, dated Dec. 6, was recently provided by the city to The Virginian-Pilot.

The report does not include any cost estimates for the city if collective bargaining was approved, but it’s specific about the issues that employees would be able to negotiate under a collective bargaining agreement.

The recommendations include bargaining power over wages, salaries and other forms of monetary compensation as well as health insurance premiums, among others. In terms of working conditions, the task force made several recommendations including to allow bargaining for tools, equipment and vehicles.

Subjects prohibited from collective bargaining are also outlined in the report and mostly reference matters controlled by federal and state law or the city code.

As for the number of bargaining units, the task force recommended no more than five with the following makeup: fire/EMS; police; service, labor and trades; administrative and technical; and professional.

“We‘re thankful that City Council took that step to inquire and get that information,” said Max Gonano, task force chair, who is also a Virginia Beach firefighter and president of the Virginia Beach Professional Fire and EMS union. “A lot of work went into it by the various members.”

City staff and representatives from the Virginia Labor and Employment Relations Association, of which the city is a member, met with the taskforce to provide information.

Collective bargaining is the process in which working people, through their unions, negotiate contracts with their employers to determine their terms of employment, including pay, benefits, hours, leave, job health and safety policies, ways to balance work and family, and more, according to the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Virginia was one of a few states with a blanket ban on collective bargaining for public sector employees until 2020, when the Democrat-controlled General Assembly enacted a new law, effective 2021, punting the final say to localities.

To engage in the process, cities must approve a law or resolution. It can’t restrict the governing body’s authority to establish a budget or appropriate funds. Strikes by public employees remain prohibited.

The Norfolk City Council recently denied collective bargaining for its city employees, and instead created “employee committees” to meet with the city manager. But the Portsmouth City Council last month gave city employees the greenlight to pursue collective bargain, making it the first Hampton Roads city to take that step.

It’s unclear if the Virginia Beach City Council will discuss the report any time soon. No date has been set, according to a city spokesperson.

“We’re patiently awaiting our opportunity to present to council,” Gonano said.

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