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Prince William County will decide this week if it will allow employees to form collective bargaining units.

The Board of Supervisors will consider whether or not to move forward with a collective bargaining ordinance during its meeting Tuesday.

In September, employees in the police and fire departments submitted petitions to the Board of Supervisors signaling their intent to collectively bargain.

Under new state law, the petition started a 120-day clock for the county to craft a collective bargaining ordinance. The ordinance would govern how collective bargaining will work, which employees are eligible and the scope of bargaining.

Prince William’s police and fire departments have associations that act on behalf of members, but they are not formal unions. 

State code had previously prohibited local governments from recognizing labor unions among its employees or entering into collective bargaining contracts with them. Employees for state agencies and constitutional officers are not included in the new legislation.

Alexandria and Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties are the only localities in the state to establish collective bargaining ordinances this year. The processes in those localities were started by their governing bodies rather than employee petitions.

A county staff report notes that a collective bargaining ordinance would have a “material” fiscal impact as 58.7% of Prince William’s $1.35 billion budget, excluding the transfer to the school division, is made up of personnel costs.

“[I]t is expected that collective bargaining agreements will result in employee associations advocating for higher benefits on behalf of their respective employee bargaining units and work rules that might require increased staffing levels,” the report says.

The county currently spends about $507.4 million per year on pay and benefits for employees, the report says.

Employee salary raises come in two forms: merit increases in January and June or a pay plan. A pay plan, or cost of living adjustment, raises salaries across the board on July 1 to meet market conditions.

In approving the budget for fiscal 2022, which ends June 30, the Board of Supervisors approved a 3% merit pay adjustment. The cost translated to a $8.2 million increase.

If the board had approved a cost of living raise, it would have cost $12.3 million, the report says.

The staff report says that some employee groups have advocated for annual cost of living increases and merit raises. The report estimates such a plan could cost $20.4 million in the first year and $24.5 million in the second year, while pointing out those numbers are hypothetical.

To cover administration of ongoing collective bargaining, the county estimated it would cost $1.7 million to $3 million annually. The range depends on whether the ordinance would just cover wage and benefits or expand to all terms and conditions of employment. 

If the board decides to pursue an ordinance, county staff would bring forward a proposal for a vote in the future. If it decides against an ordinance, the process would end.

The Board of Supervisors meets at 2 p.m. Tuesday at 1 County Complex Court, Woodbridge.

Nolan Stout covers Prince William County. Reach him at nstout@insidenova.com or @TheNolanStout on Facebook and Twitter.

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