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Loudoun firefighters, county board ratify collective bargaining agreement

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(The Center Square) – Loudoun County’s Board of Supervisors ratified a collective bargaining agreement with its firefighters Tuesday, the first such agreement in the county’s history and one of many popping up across the commonwealth.

“I don’t know when I’ve been happier and prouder to make a motion,” said Board Chairwoman Phyllis Randall, D-At Large. “If I were a crier – and I just might – I would be crying right now.”

The agreement was first made possible in 2020 with the passage of a law allowing collective bargaining at the local level starting in 2021. But establishing collective bargaining for any of a county’s employees is a multi-step process, which is why it’s just getting off the ground in Loudoun and other Virginia localities.

Once a union is selected to represent a group of employees, the process of negotiating an agreement can also be painstaking. It took the International Association of Firefighters 30 meetings with the county’s bargaining team over the course of a year to reach a collective bargaining agreement that members approved of and ultimately, the county voted for – and it has secured some rich benefits for Loudoun firefighters.

Rebekah Bofinger, labor relations manager for the county, reviewed some key components of the agreement for meeting participants and viewers online.

For fiscal year 2025, for which the county has already adopted its budget, the agreement ensures a total average uniformed pay increase of 12.4% through a 9.4% increase to the uniformed salary scale and a step increase average of 3%. The agreement grants a 7% merit increase to civilians.

The uniformed salary scale would increase again in fiscal years 2026 and 2027 by 2.5% each year, plus a step increase average of 3.4% for uniformed personnel resulting in a total average uniformed pay increase of 5.5%. Civilian employees would receive a 5.5% increase each fiscal year.

The agreement also facilitates a full-time union representative and increases the accrued annual leave cap, among other changes.

The estimated additional cost to the county to fulfill the agreement is over $47 million over the next three years – roughly $11.1 million in fiscal year 2025, $15.8 million in fiscal year 2026 and $20.3 million in fiscal year 2027.

“We cannot continually talk about supporting our firefighters and first responders if we don’t find out all the different ways to support our first responders,” Randall said. “In every possible way, I am thrilled and honored to make this motion.”

Matt Letourneau, R-Dulles, one of the two Republicans on the board also shared his perspective. Though not an advocate for collective bargaining, Letourneau voted for the motion on Tuesday.

Letourneau noted “fair and reasonable” negotiation in saying, “I will support the motion this evening. Obviously, I’ve had my own point of view about this general topic, and I would certainly like to think that we could have gotten here in an alternative way, but …. The board made a decision.”

To date, dozens of Virginia localities have considered or are considering collective bargaining. At least eight city or county school districts have voted to allow collective bargaining. Collective bargaining ordinances at the local level, like in Loudoun, often make it possible for all of the county’s employees to pursue unionization, including teachers, other school employees, police, firemen, labor and trades and office and technical employees.

Some have rejected it for now, concerned about the cost to taxpayers. Frederick County’s Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in 2020, when the bill was before the state legislature, strongly opposing the legislation.

“Many of the collective bargaining legislative proposals could have a significant fiscal impact to Frederick County and its citizens, which could include a higher tax burden to pay for this unfunded mandate,” the resolution said.

Loudoun’s “general government” employees chose the Service Employees International Union earlier this year as their collective bargaining representative, and the organization is in the process of negotiating an agreement with the county.

President of the Virginia SEIU David Broder applauded the county’s ratification of its first collective bargaining agreement on Tuesday.

“This historic vote is yet another sign of the growing worker movement in Virginia,” Broder wrote on social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

But Broder simultaneously pointed at the Loudoun schools as the next battleground for union representation.

“It’s time for the Loudoun School Board to pass a meaningful bargaining resolution!” Broder said.

Once the board passes the resolution, teachers will be able to vote for their collective bargaining representative, a position for which the Loudoun Education Association has campaigned heartily.

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