By Tyler Arnold
(The Center Square) – The city of Alexandria became the first Virginia locality to approve an ordinance that allows collective bargaining in the public sector, which some say could become costly for the taxpayers.
City employees will be able to enter into collective bargaining agreements starting May 1. This means a union will have the sole authority to bargain for wages and benefits for workers in a given working group, even if some of the workers are not union members or would rather represent themselves.
Unions could be given authority to negotiate pay, wages, grievances, and some other disputes. The original language would have also given them the power to negotiate disciplinary actions, but a late change to the ordinance removed that provision.
Collective bargaining agreements will likely yield higher wages and more expensive benefits for employees, Mark Jinks, the city manager, said in a memorandum. Although the specific costs depend on the bargaining agreements, personnel costs are about two-thirds of the city’s operating expenses.
The agreements are subject to the appropriation of the city, which means the governing body could defund portions of fiscal elements in the agreement in times of a recession or low revenue growth. However, Jinks said this is unlikely to happen “even if the city is fiscally under stress.”
“After making a good faith pledge, there will be significant employee and union pressure to maintain it, and it will be politically very difficult for a governing body to reverse that pledge, even in the case of an economic emergency,” Jinks said.
There will also be administrative costs for collective bargaining negotiations, which the city estimates will cost about $1 million annually.
The ordinance received pushback from free-market groups, such as the National Right to Work Committee. Committee President Mark Mix told The Center Square that allowing unelected union bosses to bind the government’s spending violates the democratic nature of government, increases costs to taxpayers, and curtails workers’ individual rights.
“Alexandria’s decision to grant union bosses the power to force public educators, police officers, firefighters, and other public employees under their one-size-fits-all so-called ‘representation’ not only deprives individual workers of their basic right to select their own representation, but will also saddle Alexandra taxpayers with an even more oppressive tax burden than what they already deal with,” Mix said.
The city passed the ordinance after a state law went into effect that allows localities to pass ordinances to permit public-sector collective bargaining. Before the law, these were prohibited at all levels of government in the commonwealth. With the change to state law, some other localities have also drafted proposals to permit collective bargaining.
Originally published by The Center Square. Republished with permission.