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Charlottesville City Council delays action on allowing employees to unionize

City of Charlottesville employees may soon have the opportunity to unionize but they will have to wait at least another few months.

Charlottesville City Council at a Tuesday night meeting delayed adoption of a collective bargaining ordinance for the second time. Councilors instead opted to hire a consultant to help the city put procedures and infrastructure in place for eventual collective bargaining.

Council voted to reject a collective bargaining ordinance put forward by the Amalgamated Transit Union, the second time councilors have voted against a proposed collective bargaining ordinance. The first one was put forward by the Charlottesville Professional Firefighters Association in March 2021. The city council voted unanimously in August to direct city staff to develop a collective bargaining ordinance for city employees, but voted to reject the proposed ordinance from CPFA.

Interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers said the city needs more time to prepare for collective bargaining.

“It is my opinion, given my own experience in collective bargaining, that we need some time here to put the infrastructure in place so that we can step out on our best foot to move forward with a collective bargaining infrastructure that will be beneficial to the employees, their representation, and to the city,” Rogers said. “I can assure you that the ball will move forward,” he added.

A change in the Code of Virginia that took effect May 1, 2021 allows municipalities to enter into collective bargaining agreements with their employees.

Previously, the state code prohibited governing bodies from recognizing any labor union or other employee association as a bargaining agent of any public officers or employees. It also forbade localities from collectively bargaining or entering into a collective bargaining contract with respect to employment or service.

Loudoun County and the City of Alexandria, both in Northern Virginia, have adopted collective bargaining ordinances under the change in state code. Rogers said none of the state government associations have developed a model ordinance for collective bargaining in Virginia.

“So we are faced with a challenge of stepping forward without the pathway being clearly defined. I note that, unlike many states where collective bargaining is authorized, the state of Virginia in this move did not establish a statewide labor relations entity to provide guidance to the local governments and how we should proceed,” Roger said. “I think that our consideration is that we should take some time to study what’s required and the impact it will have on the city.”

Rogers said the plan is to hire a consultant within the next six weeks or so to lead the planning. A framework would be presented to city council in about 90 days. Councilors are expected to vote at the next meeting to allocate funding in the upcoming budget for collective bargaining.

Several speakers during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting asked the city to approve the ordinance brought forward by the Amalgamated Transit Union.

“Collective bargaining is good for workers and this investment in the city workforce will ensure the continued quality of the services available to our community,” said John Ertl, an ATU member.

“Delaying a decision is preventing hardworking city employees from earning a family-supporting wage that would enable them to live in the city of Charlottesville,” said Emily Yen, a city resident.

In December, the city council revisited the collective bargaining discussion, but opted to delay making any decisions, partially due to the unexpected departure of City Manager Chip Boyles. Boyles was supposed to prepare information on how collective bargaining would impact the city but resigned before when the discussion happened. City staff requested more time to research and prepare information for councilors.


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