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Richmond council expected to vote on city employees collective bargaining next week

Richmond City Council vice president Ellen Robertson speaks
Crixell Matthews
Richmond City Council vice president Ellen Robertson speaks at a 2019 council meeting. Robertson is supporting a proposal to allow city employees to collectively bargain but suggested city council might be moving too quickly at a meeting on Monday. (File photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

After months of negotiations with city workers, labor representatives, the mayor’s office and more, Richmond City Council could act on collective bargaining legislation for city employees as soon as next week. 

In a special Monday meeting at City Hall, the council announced new legislation supported by all members, as well as Mayor Levar Stoney, that would allow city employee unions to begin working on agreements to bargain for wages, benefits and more with city representatives. 

In 2021, a Virginia law paving the way for local government workers to collectively bargain with their employers took effect. Since then, some cities and counties have adopted their own related ordinances. 

Richmond is one of them, becoming the first in the state to grant collective bargaining rights to city teachers in December 2021. Other localities, like Alexandria, have adopted ordinances covering broader groups of local government workers. 

The proposal currently being considered in Richmond is akin to Alexandria’s — broad. It identifies five bargaining units: police, fire and emergency services, labor and trades, professional, and administrative and technical.  

Vice president Ellen Robertson stated her support for the proposal Monday, but expressed concerns that council would be unprepared for major negotiations if the collective bargaining proposal is approved next week. 

“This is the first frank, in my opinion, conversation [on collective bargaining]” Robertson said. “We’re passing this ordinance exempting even a committee meeting.” 

Council president Cynthia Newbille agreed that preparation on the city’s part would be needed but argued they would have time while city workers focus on organizing themselves.  

“There’s an expectation from my perspective that we will have that implementation planning work for this body as well,” Newbille said. 

During the Monday meeting, Cynthia Hudson, an attorney with Sands Anderson and a former chief deputy attorney general of Virginia, gave an overview of the general collective bargaining process. 

“It’s a very democratic process,” Hudson said, emphasizing that the city’s proposal is a jumping off point. It doesn’t require collective bargaining, but it does make the process available to the five pockets of city workers identified. 

Hudson said Alexandria adopted its own bargaining ordinance as soon as it could; their bargaining bill passed as soon as the process was legal statewide in May 2021. But it took until September 2021 to hire a labor relations administrator, and bargaining units are still negotiating with the city.

Richmond City Council meets for a regular meeting on July 25, when it's expected to vote on the proposal. 

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.