Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Richmond police officers vote to join local, independent police union

City Employees and supporters wearing shirts  and holding signs that say "Richmond is for Unions"
Scott Elmquist
VPM News
Richmond employees filed for union elections on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023 at City Hall in Richmond, Virginia.

Unless the city objects, it will enter collective bargaining with the Richmond Coalition of Police.

Richmond Police Department officers made a pivotal step toward being represented by a union Monday, after voting to have the Richmond Coalition of Police enter contract negotiations with the City of Richmond.

The city now has five days to raise objections regarding the election. If there are no objections RCOP will then enter negotiations over a collective bargaining agreement.

Police officers began voting by mail on April 19. Just under 200 votes were cast: 183–7 voted for RCOP to represent the officers, according to RCOP President Brendan Leavy.

561 ballots were sent out to officers eligible to vote, which included officers, sergeants and lieutenants.

“The people that I talked to … that did not cast the ballot, basically, just said that they trust us,” Leavy said. “And they're like, ‘Oh, I didn't think I needed to just because you guys are doing such a great job.’”

Compensation, working conditions, vacation time and insurance are all among things a union may negotiate with the city.

“It’s really, really encouraging that we actually have a seat at the table,” Leavy said in an interview Tuesday. “And not just a seat at the table, we have half the table … there's 100 different items now that we can start talking about.”

Leavy said he hoped union membership could help with retention and competition with neighboring counties. RPD has funding for 724 sworn officers and 107.5 nonsworn but had 614 sworn officers, a city spokesperson told VPM News in December. 

RCOP is an independent union and not affiliated with a national union.

Police are one of five bargaining units, or groups of workers, that are allowed to form after Richmond City Council passed a collective bargaining ordinance in July 2022.

A unit made up of firefighters and emergency services employees appears to be close behind the police, with an election likely happening in June, according to Keith Andes, the president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 995.

Andes also said that the city wanted to exclude roughly a dozen 911 dispatchers from the unit but Keith Greenberg, the city’s contracted labor relations administrator — who arbitrates disputes and oversees union elections — ruled to include them.

Andes estimated that the fire and emergency services bargaining unit would have approximately 500 employees.

At least 30% of a unit’s workers need to file petitions of interest, also known as a “card check,” in order for an election to be held.

Representatives of the three other city bargaining units also filed requests for an election in February. That process is ongoing, as organizers and the city resolve questions over how many and which types of employees would be included in those units.

In February, the administrative and technical unit and the professionals unit filed to join the Service Employees International Union.

Workers from the labor and trades filed for an election to join Teamsters and with LIUNA, the Laborers' International Union of North America. That unit is made up of about 485 workers, according to a LIUNA organizer. A union election will decide which, if any, union will become those workers’ bargaining agent.

Keon Shim, LIUNA’s organizing director for the Mid-Atlantic region, said their organizing effort focuses a lot on educating workers on the labor landscape in Virginia. The commonwealth had long restricted public-sector unions, until the General Assembly permitted workers to be able to collectively bargain in 2020.

“There's a lot of education going on about what ‘right to work’ means,” said Shim, who spoke at LIUNA’s office in Jackson Ward in front of a wall of spreadsheets with contact information for city workers. “There's a little bit of a hurdle there that we overcome with educating and providing information.”

Richmond’s city government employs about 4,000 people, including temporary and part-time workers, making it the fourth largest employer in the city by the state’s own count.

Spokespeople for the city of Richmond and the Richmond Police Department didn’t answer requests for comment by press time. Greenberg, the city’s labor relations administrator, declined to comment.

Jahd Khalil covers Virginia state politics for VPM News.
Related Stories