Labor union leaders from across trades and the region gathered in front of the Loudoun County Government Center in downtown Leesburg Oct. 13 to push county supervisors for strong organizing rights, as negotiations continue on what form collective bargaining will take for the public employees.
County supervisors voted in July to start work writing a local ordinance permitting collective bargaining among county employees. The Loudoun County Chapter of SEIU Virginia 512, which represents many Loudoun County employees, is pushing for strong bargaining rights, including putting eligible county employees in one large bargaining unit rather than dividing them among many smaller units.
They were supported in that push at a rally Wednesday by leaders from the Virginia AFL-CIO, New Virginia Majority, the Loudoun education Association, the Loudoun NAACP, NOVA Labor, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 26, Network NOVA, and the Catholic Labor Network.
Loudoun SEIU Chapter President Julius Reynolds said, “when workers thrive, the community thrives.”
“Collective bargaining is how we create work environments where we can thrive. Meaningful collective bargaining must include the freedom to communicate about our union and our working conditions. It must, must allow general county employees to bargain as one strong unit,” Reynolds said. “Meaningful collective bargaining is how we can provide even better public services to the Loudoun community and win what we need to take care of our families—our families, because that’s what really matters.”
“You know what they say—if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu, and we’ve been on the menu long enough,” said Virginia AFL-CIO President Doris Mays.
Patti Nelson, a psychiatric nurse who preceded Reynolds as Loudoun SEIU president, said shortly after beginning work for Loudoun County, she became a widow and a single mother to two kids. And then her take home pay went down.
“I learned when I came here that no matter how hard I work, no matter how much overtime I gave this county for free, no matter how many clients I saw, that my fate, my family’s security, my healthcare insurance, my retirement, was not in my own hands—that it was entirely dependent on the political winds that blow,” Nelson said. “And that’s why we need collective bargaining.”
Loudoun NAACP President Michelle Thomas recalled growing up with a father who worked for General Motors as a United Auto Workers member.
“I grew up with all the friends benefits of my father being respected because he was a part of a union that had his back,” Thomas said. “He was able to raise eight children. He was able to take care of his wife. He was able to build a church and be integral in the civil rights movement in Atlanta, because he didn’t have to worry about his job.”
“The reason I joined a labor movement isn’t for getting more wages or getting more benefits, it’s to give every single human being agency, dignity, freedom, and a voice. Only collective bargaining will do that,” said IBEW Local 26 member Don Slaiman. “You have life insurance, house insurance, but can you insure your identity? Because you get your identity from what you do. Unfortunately, in this country, people’s first question is what you do. We even get our last names from what we do.”
Supervisors had planned a public hearing on a proposed ordinance at their public hearing Oct. 13, but negotiations on that ordinance are continuing and it was not on that agenda.