Fairfax County firefighters could let union negotiate work conditions for first time in decades

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department (file photo)

The first union election that Fairfax County employees have been allowed to hold in over four decades is now underway.

With an election for representation that launched Monday (Oct. 10), firefighters, medics, fire marshals and other Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department workers will determine whether the union IAFF Local 2068 can represent them in upcoming contract negotiations with the county government.

Voting is being conducted electronically through the independent company BallotPoint and will continue until Oct. 31, according to IAFF Local 2068, which has a membership of approximately 1,500 FCFRD employees.

“Our department is filled with intelligent, highly qualified and highly trained people,” IAFF Local 2068 President Robert Young said in the news release. “We’re first responders who love our jobs, love serving the Fairfax community, and want to continue to ensure that we are providing the best fire and medical emergency services possible. Bargaining allows us to do just that, while also ensuring that the concerns of our members and our community are heard and treated equitably.”

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a collective bargaining ordinance on Oct. 19, 2021, giving county government employees the power to have a union negotiate their pay, benefits and working conditions for the first time in more than 40 years.

Public sector workers had been barred from collective bargaining in Virginia since the state Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that the General Assembly could prohibit the practice. The court cited the Dillon Rule that limits local governments’ powers and has become a source of frustration in Fairfax County.

Localities finally got the authority to adopt ordinances recognizing labor unions and giving employees the ability to collectively bargain in May 2021, when a bill passed by state lawmakers and signed by then-governor Ralph Northam in 2020 took effect.

Under its approved ordinance, Fairfax County will recognize separate bargaining units representing general county employees, the fire department, and police, an approach that some workers’ groups had opposed.

Since no other unions have been accepted for firefighters, the only options in the current election are to approve Local 2068 as the bargaining unit or “no one,” organizer Jeremy McClayton told FFXnow by email.

General county employees and the police will hold their own elections. They both have multiple unions vying to serve as their bargaining unit, according to McClayton.

Fairfax County Public Schools has yet to grant collective bargaining rights to its employees, though a resolution for the school board to adopt is being developed.

On the county side, the Board of Supervisors confirmed Sarah Miller Espinosa as its labor relations administrator on June 7. The administrator serves as a neutral party tasked with establishing union election procedures, overseeing negotiations, and mediating disputes.

If Local 2068 wins, the union will begin contract negotiations with the county in the spring.

Young said in the press release that, with collective bargaining, the union hopes to create “an equitable and collaborative relationship” between workers and the county.

“It’s about ensuring that all of our employees are heard, that they’re all a part of the decision making process, and that they all have a sense of ownership of their careers and lives,” Young said. “We’re happy to have the overwhelming support of our elected officials, and all the members of the Fairfax community who made this election for representation possible.”

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