Talk about fortitude; it took Fairfax County Police and Fairfax County Fire and Rescue twenty-eight years under seven consecutive four-year terms of men and women serving as members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, but it happened.
On Dec. 5, 2023, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors made history when it approved two separate resolutions specifying good faith commitments to funding agreements with the Southern States Police Benevolent Association and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2068.
In her 28 years as chair of the personnel committee, Penny Gross, vice chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said that they put in place retirement plans and delayed retirement option plans. However, she said that the heaviest lift the board had ever done was the collective bargaining agreement.
“It took us seven terms to get us there and a change in the General Assembly’s makeup. But I’m very pleased that we are here, where we are,” she said at the Dec. 5 regular meeting of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Gross is retiring from the board, and said: ”This is a nice note to go out on.”
The first resolution was ACTION-9, concerning the Fairfax County Police Department and the Tentative Agreement with the Southern States Police Benevolent Association. The second was ACTION-10 concerning Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Under the Tentative Agreement with the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2068.
Gross advised, “If you have time, you can read every word of both of these resolutions and the agreements. I had to look up some of the terminology because I did not know what those things were.”
Supervisor Dalia Palchik (D-Providence) designated the day as a historic moment, a first. The board was approving two collective bargaining agreements. She emphasized Article 54 of both agreements, the critical nature of mental health and wellness services, as they had heard from staff, and the impact on their families. She added that it is critical not only to invest in salaries but also in mental and physical health. “I very much appreciate it that this addresses the impact to our public safety employees,” Palchik said.
Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) said that he had previously expressed his apprehensions regarding collective bargaining. His primary concern, however, was that although the agreement contained some positive aspects, "there were also bad things as well.”
Herrity explained that the agreement was devoid of any influence from the board. “We've had no briefings on what objectives were accomplished. What things our employees wanted that we weren't able to give them in this agreement. At least I haven't," he said.
"I don't know that that's a good way to manage to turn it over to staff and let them hammer it out with our public safety officials without board input or report back to the board on what's in here and what's not,” Herrity said. “It's very difficult for me to sit here other than reading, and oh, by the way, we've been told we can't talk to him. So on this agreement, for those reasons and many others, I'm not going to be supporting this,” Herrity said.
Supervisor James Walkinshaw (D-Braddock) countered, recalling Herrity saying that this board is not ten county executives running around making every decision. One of Walkinshaw's key priorities was to provide a real voice to employees, in this instance, those in public safety, and to do so because “they have some of the best ideas on how to improve things that Supervisor Herrity just talked about.”
Among the aspects of the agreement that Walkinshaw appreciated, he said, was the stipend for foreign languages. Participating in ride-a-longs with police officers in certain areas of the West Springfield District has revealed that their inability to speak Spanish makes their jobs more difficult.
The officers told Walkinshaw it was difficult to take extra time to go to the classes and get certification to get foreign language skills, and a stipend would help. He presumed the officers had a chance to sit down at the table and say that and make that argument. “Straight out of their mouths, not mine or the chief's or the county executive's, and that’s the real value of this process."
Walkinshaw observed that in the absence of collective bargaining, the board would have proceeded with its customary approach to evaluating compensation increases.
“So when it says that the year one impact is $33 million, I don't want anyone to go out and say collective bargaining is costing us $33 million. Because if we didn't have collective bargaining, we would have done what we did last year, the year before, and the year before. Look at our pay plan, the MRA pay studies, and all of the other elements of it. Maybe it would have come out the same or slightly different, but it's not collective bargaining that's costing us $33 million.”
Chairman Jeff McKay said that many of the commitments in the police agreement that they were expecting the county executive to include in his budget proposal to the board are things we likely would have had to do anyway, in this particular market, especially in line with recruitment and retention.
McKay opined that Supervisor Herrty “missed the point of collective bargaining” to get the public safety people at the table to hear from them." He added that it happens most of the time on supervisors’ dias, and it is not right. "So to hear from them, the employee groups, and to be able to work together with them on an agreement that respects the very specialized work that we do and makes them feel like they have a voice, is the point of collective bargaining.”
McKay closed, saying that not only was the board hoping that they could fund and support this in the budget, but they also hoped that that spirit of collaboration would continue as they move forward. “Because we have seen where that hasn't worked, and the outcome of those conversations in most cases doesn't benefit anyone, at least in the short term.”
Before calling the vote, McKay said, "I think this is a remarkable, remarkable testament to the hard work of a lot of people who are in this auditorium and some people who aren't in this auditorium and to all the public safety workers who are working right now to benefit them and their families,” McKay said.
He added, “Just to be clear, this is a collective bargaining agreement in this particular case; we're talking about police officers, but collectively, we have another item and a motion for fire and rescue. Collectively, we're talking about the firefighters, police officers, and public safety communicators who serve this county every single day. And so with that, all those in favor of Action Item number nine, please say aye." The motion carried nine to one.
Moments later, the board approved, in a vote of 9-1, Action Item 10, a resolution specifying the Board of Supervisors good faith commitment to appropriate necessary funding for the county to meet its obligations under the tentative agreement with the International Association of Firefighters Local 2068 as set forth in the Department of Management and Budgets final impact study.
Collective Bargaining Timeline
On April 22, 2020, the Virginia General Assembly approved House Bill 582, giving localities the option to implement collective bargaining, effective May 1, 2021.
On Oct. 19, 2021, the Board of Supervisors approved the Collective Bargaining Ordinance. Under the ordinance, the police employees' bargaining unit consists of all sworn uniformed employees of the police department, including uniformed officers of the Animal Control Unit. The Fire and Emergency Medical Services: The fire and emergency medical services employees' bargaining unit consists of uniformed fire employees, including fire marshals.
The collective bargaining agreements reached with employee groups are subject to appropriation, like the current compensation agreements. Virginia Code Section § 40.1-57.2. Collective bargaining (B) provides: "No ordinance or resolution adopted pursuant to subsection A [enabling collective bargaining by localities] shall include provisions that restrict the governing body's authority to establish the budget or appropriate funds."
Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/boardofsupervisors/sites/boardofsupervisors/files/assets/meeting-materials/2023/board/december5-board-package-revised.pdf to access documents including the resolutions, fiscal impact studies, tentative collecting bargaining agreements and contract summaries related to Action Items 9 and 10.