Collective Bargaining Gains Ground in Virginia

April 21 • 2021

The City of Alexandria, Virginia, is the first jurisdiction in the Commonwealth to pass a collective bargaining ordinance, a crucial victory in the battle to give professional fire fighters and EMS personnel a stronger voice in a safer, fairer, more efficient workplace.

The Alexandria City Council unanimously approved the ordinance giving city employees the right to bargain with their employers over a range of workplace issues, including pay, benefits and grievances. The ordinance passed after Alexandria Local 2141, working closely with the IAFF and other unions, effectively beat back efforts to weaken the ordinance.

“Our fire fighters and paramedics deserve a strong voice in their health and safety and of the safety of those they protect,” says General President Edward Kelly. “I applaud the leadership of Local 2141 and our brothers and sisters in Alexandria who will now have a voice to improve their safety on the fire ground and provide security to their families.”

Late last year, the Alexandria City manager proposed an ordinance more closely resembling meet and confer, which would not allow Local 2141 and other unions to fully bargain with employers. Through a concerted campaign, Local 2141 brought awareness to the importance of strong collective bargaining, not just for fire fighters and other city employees but for the community as well.

“We have been using meet and confer for years and it has not worked,” says Local 2141 President Joshua Turner. “Alexandria fire fighters are among the lowest paid in Northern Virginia, even though our duties have expanded as the region’s population has grown. We made this argument forcefully and it resonated, especially with the public.”

The next step for Local 2141 will be to begin negotiating with the city on a new binding contract.

“The fight for collective bargaining in Virginia has been long and difficult,” says 4th District Vice President Andrew Pantelis. “It is wonderful to have this win. Now we must work together to help other affiliates secure collective bargaining and begin writing a new chapter for labor in Virginia.”

This groundbreaking win in Alexandria comes as momentum is building toward expanding public sector collective bargaining throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, a so-called right to work state. Affiliates across Virginia are eager to follow in the footsteps of Local 2141.

“We have been meeting with other affiliate leaders to put together a game plan to help expand local collective bargaining in Virginia,” says Turner.

Virginia state lawmakers last year approved a law allowing local governments to decide whether to adopt collective bargaining, paving the way for the City of Alexandria to become the first to do so.

Fire fighter collective bargaining is gaining steam on the national stage, as well. The IAFF’s collective bargaining bill, the Fire Fighters and EMS Employer Employee Cooperation Act, HR 2586, has been introduced in the U.S. House by Representatives Dan Kildee (D-MI) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). President Joe Biden has also repeatedly expressed his support for a stronger union voice in the workplace.

Contact your member of Congress to become a cosponsor of our national collective bargaining legislation and extend basic collective bargaining rights to fire fighters and emergency medical personnel in all 50 states.