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Fairfax County firefighters vote to unionize for historic contract talks

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue engine ladder (file photo)

Firefighters, medics and other Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department employees will have a union represent them in the county’s first collective bargaining negotiations for public workers in over 40 years.

Over 800 FCFRD workers participated in a 13-day election last month to determine whether to have union representation for contract talks with the county government, which will establish pay, benefits and other working conditions.

The only union in contention, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 2068 won with a decisive 797 votes, or 95.2%. The only other option on the ballot was to have no representation, which received 40 votes, the union announced Friday (Nov. 18).

With 1,533 members, Local 2068 represents firefighters, fire marshals, mechanics, medics and emergency dispatchers employed by Fairfax County. 837 eligible voters — 54.6% — cast a ballot in the election from Oct. 12-31.

“This is a monumental day for the members of our department,” IAFF 2068 President Robert Young said in a news release. “But it’s also a monumental day for all Fairfax County employees, and all of the residents of our community. We’ve shown that when Fairfax County workers come together…we have the power to have a say in the decisions that impact our lives and the lives of the communities we serve.”

After Virginia ended a 44-year ban on collective bargaining for public sector workers in May 2021, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance on Oct. 19, 2021 granting employees the right to organize, elect union representatives and participate in union activities.

Under the ordinance, the county will recognize separate bargaining units for the fire department, police and other county workers. Elections haven’t been held yet for the police and general government units.

With negotiations expected to begin in early 2023, Local 2068 says one priority will be addressing the staffing shortages that have affected the fire department and other county agencies, from police to the park authority and public library system.

Local 2068 says first responders have been forced to work mandatory overtime, adding 12 to 24 hours on top of their standard 24-hour shift “sometimes with little to no notice.” The union says its members have performed over 80,000 hours of “holdovers” — equal to 3,333 24-hour days.

“Having members work such excessive mandatory overtime isn’t just bad for their health, but it’s a potential hazard for the community members we serve,” Young said. “We look forward to addressing this issue at the bargaining table.”

Collective bargaining negotiations will last up to November 2023. A resulting agreement won’t take effect until July 1, 2024, when the county’s fiscal year 2025 begins.

Some issues could be addressed earlier as part of the upcoming fiscal year 2024 budget process, which will begin in earnest when County Executive Bryan Hill presents his proposed plan on Feb. 21.

Young said Local 2068 will advocate for merit and cost of living pay increases as well as funding for automated ambulance loaders — stretchers where the legs automatically fold up as the device is rolled into a vehicle.

“We’re the only jurisdiction in the region that doesn’t have access to these tools, tools that not only help prevent members from being injured, but also help us deliver faster and safer service to the community,” Young said.

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