The Fairfax County Government Center (Fairfax County/Flickr)
By Norman Hall
As Fairfax County continues its yearly budget ritual and holds public hearings on April 11-13, workers and citizens alike always look for clues about priorities and a shared vision for the future. For Fairfax County employees like myself, we are often left with a sense of disillusionment and this year is no different.
What message does it send when general county employees are offered a meager 2% pay increase? This is hard to take, especially when compared to the recent raises of almost 40% for the chairman’s office and nearly 30% for individual supervisors. Current workers are also frustrated by salary compression, exacerbated by chronic underfunding in past budget cycles. During the pandemic, we were considered essential employees who helped keep things running in our county. Now it’s back to more of the same.
Fairfax County has long been considered a premier place to work in the DC metro area and now, also in surrounding counties like Prince William and Loudoun, not to mention Federal agencies and private sector firms, are attracting interest from our employees. For Fairfax to compete and maintain a qualified workforce with high morale, it must value its employees. However, the current proposed budget shows that priorities are headed in another direction. As we say, values are measured by numbers more than the words that accompany them. With a $90 million budget surplus, it’s clear there is room to make a difference.
So what is the solution to strengthen and appreciate the Fairfax workforce during the budget process and beyond?
It’s collective bargaining and a strong union contract. When employees have a seat at the table and work in collaboration with county leaders, we can improve services and the lives of those who do the work every day. County employees look forward to joining our fire/rescue and police colleagues with collective bargaining rights to improve the compensation, benefits and working conditions that we all deserve. My colleagues have renewed optimism after seeing the growth of the union movement throughout Virginia – especially Richmond city workers who recently filed for their union election. Change is possible and we are ready to fight for it.
As a leader in our Fairfax chapter of SEIU Virginia 512, I am proud of the work we have done so far when coming together in our union and I look forward to what else we can do in the future. We played a pivotal role in winning paid family medical leave, for example. This has already resulted in the ability of workers to avoid agonizing choices between carrying out work, versus losing pay while tending to people at home who truly need care and loving support. When employees are free of stress concerning scheduling, benefits, and wages, we will be free to provide the best services possible for county residents. A union contract will help lock this in place and create stability for years to come.
Whether it is in the budget or otherwise funded, it’s time for the County to prioritize fairly paying its workforce and truly recognize us for what we are and what we have always been: essential workers.
Norman Hall is a Fairfax County employee with the Department of Transportation and a member of the executive board of the Fairfax Chapter of SEIU Virginia 512.
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