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The union difference: Arlington County and Alexandria city workers secure first contracts

Photo credit: Kat Cancio
The union difference: Arlington County and Alexandria city workers secure first contracts
By Andrew Fernandez ·

Labor and trades employees in Arlington County and the city of Alexandria, Virginia, made history by voting to ratify their first contract in the final days of October, securing raises and protections on the job. 

Last year, some workers for Arlington County and Alexandria city voted to unionize with AFSCME after public employees across the commonwealth fought to pass legislation allowing them to bargain collectively. The two units represent over 500 employees who work on essential public services such as water treatment, traffic enforcement, parks and recreation, and more. 

Arlington County labor and trades employees secured 12.25% across-the-board wage increases over the course of the three-year agreement, plus 6% increases to all starting and maximum salaries for every position. In addition, the agreement opens up a potential transition to a step-and-grade pay schedule in 2027, subject to the recommendation of a joint labor-management wage committee.  

Beyond the gains on wages, Arlington County workers now are protected by a grievance procedure and are guaranteed union representation. 

In Alexandria, labor and trade workers’ three-year contract guarantees an 8% raise over three years, plus a $1,000 bonus in 2024. Most importantly, the agreement establishes a step-and-grade pay schedule that guarantees wage increases for all employees.  

Previously, wage increases were only given after completion of an evaluation that management sometimes neglected to schedule. Now, if management fails to complete the evaluation within 60 days, employees will be given the raise automatically. 

Jaleesa Morris, a parking enforcement officer with the city of Alexandria for over six years, says the raises will offer peace of mind.  

“With inflation and this ‘silent recession’ that no one wants to talk about, having those raises be automatic is definitely going to make me feel a lot more at ease,” she said.  

Along with on-the-job protections and other benefits, such as an allowance for new boots and tools, Morris said the other highlight of the agreement is the guarantee of holiday pay.  

“Before, some longer-shift workers had to actually use vacation time to get the full holiday pay,” she said. “That was just unfair, so we made sure everyone gets their entire shift covered.” 

Overall, these two agreements represent a huge step forward for these workers and for public workers in Virginia generally. These contracts, the first two since the Virginia collective bargaining law was passed in 2020, set a strong precedent for other public employees across the commonwealth.  

“Having a union contract is all about strength in numbers. When we’re together in a union, we can actually fight for the changes we want to see,” Morris said. “We’re stronger when we work together.” 

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