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City Council approves amended collective bargaining ordinance

Some community members listed concerns about the inclusion of police officers as a bargaining unit

At Monday's business meeting Council members opened the floor to public comment regarding two issues — a new bridge over Emmet Street and an amended collective bargaining ordinance. Council voted unanimously to approve both measures.

Collective bargaining was discussed in a meeting last month, and many community members said that the proposed ordinance was not sufficient for providing Charlottesville workers with sufficient union and collective bargaining rights. 

The new collective bargaining ordinance features several amendments including allowing employees to request a representative during interviews related to discipline, giving employees the option to use City technology for union purposes and adding a specific list of prohibited labor practices. 

One alteration made for the new ordinance expanded on the amount of bargaining units provided for. The original ordinance only provided bargaining rights to workers in the police department, fire department and transit workers. 

The amended ordinance includes all three of these units, as well as labor and trades, administrative and technical and professional units. The first three of any of these six units to be certified will be recognized for collective bargaining in the first year. For the remaining three, additional bargaining units may be recognized one per calendar year. 

Many community members, including local resident and head of the Amalgamated Transit Union John Ertl, said he appreciated the revised ordinance. According to Ertl, the new ordinance is not perfect, but it is a significant improvement to previous drafts.  

“I just want to say thank you to everybody for their hard work on this, we’re very pleased with the outcome of what’s happened here,” Ertl said. “We’re very thankful that the City Council and the City Manager have seen fit to listen to the frontline workers about what they wanted to see in the ordinance.” 

While many community members were pleased with the revision of the ordinance, some expressed concern about the inclusion of police as a bargaining unit. Local resident Kate Fraleigh said that including police in the ordinance at all may decrease accountability among police officers. 

“I oppose including the police department in this resolution for the following reasons — police are the only employees that can carry guns, that can decide to kill people and can decide to put us in jail,” Fraleigh said. 

Jeff Fogel called in also to oppose the inclusion of police, adding that Council has not recognized the fact that Black residents are more likely to be targeted and arrested.

During Council commentary, Mayor Lloyd Snook expressed support for including police in the ordinance. Snook said that when looking at studies that show correlation between areas with high rates of police violence and presence of a police union, it is important to remember that the reason for increased police violence in certain jurisdictions is not necessarily because they have a union. 

“I had noted before that Charlottesville actually does not have a police violence problem unlike some of these other jurisdictions,” Snook said. “We are certainly the smallest jurisdiction to have a PCOB or anything similar to it in Virginia.”

Council member Michael Payne said that his preference would be to exclude police from the ordinance to ensure that special attention is given to the potential consequences of creating a police bargaining unit. Still, Payne expressed support for the amended ordinance, saying that it represents a strong compromise. 

Council also voted 5-0 to approve the University’s request for air rights for the construction of the new bridge connecting the Contemplative Commons project — which is currently in development — with Newcomb Plaza. The bridge will sit 23 feet above the road and will be accessible, replacing the existing Emmet Street bridge which is not ADA accessible and has several maintenance concerns. The University plans to begin construction of the new bridge this winter. 

Interim City Manager Michael Rogers later made an announcement regarding pay increases for transit workers in the city of Charlottesville. According to Rogers, effective today, starting pay for operators for transit and pupil drivers will be $21 per hour, starting pay for bus aides will be $18 per hour and all bus drivers with over a year of experience as well as technicians and maintenance workers will receive a 12 percent market adjustment. These efforts come as the City experiences a bus driver shortage, leaving many young students to walk to school. 

According to Rogers, Charlottesville Area Transit is hiring and in need of more pupil and transit bus drivers. 

“The City of Charlottesville and the region needs public transportation and I am proud of the efforts of the men and women at CAT who have stood by us and worked with us, and we hope that this pay increase will continue to provide incentive and will draw back the people we need to ensure that we have a stable, reliable, public transportation system for the citizens in this community,” Rogers said. 

During the city manager’s report, Council members also discussed recent incidents of gun violence. Rogers emphasized that the city manager’s office is constantly in communication with the Charlottesville Police Department and that the priority is the safety of City residents. 

Rogers also discussed two recent incidences of swatting — in which a person files a false police report with the intent of calling SWAT officers to a certain location — in Charlottesville City Schools. One incident occurred on Sept. 19 at Charlottesville High School and the second occurred the next day at Buford Middle School. According to Rogers, the FBI is investigating these incidents.

“[Swatting] is an unfortunate act of cowardice that multiple school districts in the commonwealth had to work through this,” Rogers said.  

City Council will meet next on Oct. 17.