Fairfax County employees advocate for pay raises during April budget hearings

SEIU member and Fairfax County employee Ellisa Green speaks at a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors budget hearing on April 17, 2024 (courtesy of SEIU Virginia 512)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors faces tough decisions ahead of next week’s budget markup session, following demands from local unions to increase county employees’ wages.Last week, dozens of county employees from various departments gathered at a series of public hearings to protest the 2% market rate adjustment (MRA) included in the county executive’s proposed fiscal year 2025 budget — asking instead for an increase of at least 4%.Every year, the county compares its salaries against similar jobs in the area to ensure pay is competitive. Though the full market rate adjustment was estimated at over 4%, County Executive Bryan Hill proposed allocating roughly $24 million for a 2% increase for FY 2025, citing revenue constraints.

Many county employees who attended the April 16-18 public hearings on the advertised budget, which will take effect on July 1, argued that wouldn’t be enough to keep up with the cost of living.

Lauren Tumbleson, a social services worker and member of SEIU Virginia 512, a union for general county employees, said she is considering leaving her job to care for her 4-year-old son, as child care costs would be too high without a bigger pay raise.

“Not fully funding the MRA this year will have a direct impact on our daily lives,” she said during the April 17 hearing.

Other SEIU members and representatives from the Fairfax Workers Coalition (FWC) said that without the pay raises, departments will continue to experience staff turnover, reducing the quality of services to residents.

FWC member Marie Kenealy, a veteran parole officer at the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, noted that inadequate staffing and training puts at risk both the safety of the staff and their ability to help youth in the judicial system.

“We are part of the courts, but we do not have the protections afforded to law enforcement,” she said on April 17. “…At times, we escort violent offenders without adequate protection or training. At times, we are confronted with gang violence, aggression, exposed to fentanyl, and we’re often conducting home visits where we know firearms are likely present.”

Without fair wages and improved conditions, the court risks losing experienced personnel, Kenealy said.

Many local educators called on the Board of Supervisors to fully fund Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Michelle Reid’s $3.8 billion budget request — including an additional $254 million to adequately compensate the public education system’s employees.

Jennifer Ives, a special education teacher at James Madison High School in Vienna, said she knows several experienced colleagues who have left to take higher paying jobs in surrounding counties.

Ives argued that funding the superintendent’s request could mean less staff turnover, because teachers may be able to afford to live closer to where they work.

“The increase could help us find one of the cheaper rentals in the area and maybe I could have a 30-minute commute instead of an hour and a half,” Ives said. “I’d be able to sleep in past 5 a.m. and maybe get home an hour before dinner.”

When Hill presented his budget proposal in February, supervisors lamented that the burden of funding FCPS falls too heavily on the county due to limited funding from Virginia.

Earlier this month, Governor Glenn Youngkin proposed budget amendments that, according to WTOP, would reduce funding for FCPS by nearly $17 million for FY 2025 and $24 million in fiscal year 2026.

Regardless of the state budget, though, Fairfax County School Board Chair Karl Frisch argued the county needs to ensure the school system can pay its employees competitive wages at a time when enrollment and demand for services is increasing countywide.

“Our budget request does not include new initiatives,” Frisch said during the board’s April 16 hearing. “We are focusing on what is needed to continue ensuring excellence in our schools.”

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