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Legal Insider: Arlington County employees move towards unionization

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

Earlier this year, on July 17, the Arlington County Board approved the process for collective bargaining for a significant number of Arlington county employees.

Many Northern Virginia communities have begun the process of implementing collective bargaining following Virginia’s repeal of the ban on such agreements in 2020. In the ordinance, Arlington County authorized potential unions for Police employees, Fire and Emergency Services employees, Service Labor, Office and Technical employees and Professional Employees. A number of senior-level and other employees are not eligible to join a union.

Typically, in order to start the collective bargaining process, a government needs to appoint a manager or board to carry out the job of impartially carrying out the applicable labor law. According to the new ordinance, the job of running elections and certifying individual unions was given to a new Labor Relations Administrator whose job will involve many of the same types of duties held by the National Labor Relations Board for private companies. Employees covered will have many of the traditional rights given to other unionized workforces and have the ability to take disputes to binding arbitration.

Strikes remain barred under the new ordinance and can lead to termination of employment. In addition, traditional unfair labor practice charges, labeled in the ordinance as “prohibited practice charges,” would be available.

Some of the most important aspects of unionization for eligible employees generally include:

  • A level playing field for union officials and management to discuss employment issues as equals without fear of retaliation
  • The ability of unions to negotiate binding solutions with officially recognized unions
  • Employee protections from interference by management in labor matters through the complaint process (similar to the unfair labor practice complaint process)
  • Binding arbitration for violations of collective bargaining agreements and appeals of disciplinary actions by independent arbitrators not employed by the County

It appears as if a majority or two-thirds of county employees will be eligible to join a union. According to news accounts, and our experience in representing unions before other entities, it will likely take at least two years before any collective bargaining agreements are effective. From recent ad postings, it appears that the Arlington Labor Relations Administrator’s office is still in the process of hiring personnel for the upcoming collective bargaining process.

In addition, a petition has already been filed for recognition by the Arlington Firefighters & Paramedics Association. Other unions may have also filed such petitions but are unknown at this time. It will take time for the labor unions to become officially recognized and for collective bargaining agreements to be negotiated, but the process is fully underway and will lead to better employee rights for Arlington County employees.

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