Charlottesville got its first glimpse of a possible collective bargaining ordinance for city employees during Monday’s city council business session, but many city employees affected by the ordinance say it won’t. is not strong enough.
Several city employees and community members spoke about the proposed ordinance during the public comment portion of Monday night’s city council meeting, following the business session where the ordinance was presented.
The proposed ordinance was prepared by Acting City Manager Michael C. Rogers and consulting firm Venable LLP. The city hired the Washington, DC firm on a $685,000 contract to help draft the ordinance.
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“Collective bargaining in the public sector is fundamentally about solving collective problems and working together,” said John Ertl, a representative of the Amalgamated Transit Union and a resident of Charlottesville. “So it’s a good idea that we take input from frontline workers into consideration when developing the order.”
Ertl said he has reviewed collective bargaining orders from several jurisdictions and, in his opinion, the one Charlottesville offers is the weakest.
“It may be new to Charlottesville, but it’s certainly not new,” he said.
A key issue for several employees is that the draft order does not include binding arbitration. They also want stricter disciplinary and grievance procedures, including allowing employees to have a union representative present in disciplinary proceedings.
“If you see collective bargaining as a fundamental right and a positive good rather than a privilege which you have the power to dispense with or not, then you will find that efforts to limit or restrict it are contrary to the spirit of empowering workers,” said David Koenig, a Charlottesville City Schools teacher and co-chair of the teachers’ union organizing committee.
Koenig specifically asked the City Council to change the ordinance to include negotiation over benefits and disciplinary proceedings and include binding arbitration. Several other city employees voiced the same demands.
While collective bargaining for teachers and school employees will be handled separately by the Charlottesville School Board, Koenig said the teachers’ union stands in solidarity with city employees and the city council’s decision will set a precedent. that could have an impact on the school board. decision.
Daniel Summers, a CAT employee for 10 years, agrees.
“What we need to move forward with a stronger transit system are bargaining rights. We need someone to speak on behalf of the drivers when issues arise,” he said.
Another common concern expressed by employees was that the order would not allow employees to collectively bargain for benefits, including health insurance.
The ordinance authorizes collective bargaining for wages and salaries, working conditions and non-medical and non-social benefits, such as holidays and vacations. It does not allow negotiation on the subjects of health and welfare benefits, basic staff rules and decisions, and budgetary matters.
Although state law prohibits collective bargaining in budget matters, it does not dictate how jurisdictions handle collective bargaining for health and welfare benefits.
George Davis, a CAT employee for seven years, said he wanted to continue working for the city, but rising benefit costs became a challenge because the salary remained the same.
“We just want the union to guarantee the right to be able to keep what we already have,” Davis said. “I love my work.”
Another issue raised by city workers is the draft ordinance which currently only focuses on three unions. Rogers and Venable’s consultants said they chose to focus on transit workers, firefighters and police officers in this initial order because transit workers and firefighters have expressed an interest in collective bargaining.
Police officers were included because of their work with the public. Some stakeholders have suggested the creation of a general union for employees who do not come under these three departments.
There will be a public hearing on the proposed ordinance at the next city council meeting on September 6 with a possible vote to change or pass the ordinance at a later meeting. If the city council votes to pass the ordinance, it will go into effect on January 1, 2023.