RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Two Richmond City Councilmembers have put forward new legislation to allow certain city workers to unionize and negotiate their labor contracts.

City employees, labor union organizers and advocates have been calling on the council to pass a collective bargaining ordinance to give workers the right to negotiate for better wages, benefits and working conditions.

Two different measures were introduced last year — one from Councilmembers Reva Trammell and Kristen Nye and another sponsored by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. However, a final vote has been delayed as members opted to review the implications of approving collective bargaining rights for workers.

In Stoney’s ordinance, collective bargaining would be limited to city workers in the departments of Public Utilities and Public Works. The measure initially put forward by Trammell and Nye, which received support from most of the council, proposed expanding those rights to more city employees, including police, firefighters, library workers, social workers and others.

On Tuesday, Trammell and Nye filed a new ordinance that proposes to recognize the following bargaining units: police, fire and emergency services, labor and trades, professional and administrative and technical. According to the measure, these units are made up as follows:

  • Police: All sworn employees of the Department of Police
  • Fire and Emergency Services: Uniformed fire and emergency services employees, including fire marshals
  • Labor and Trades: Eligible classes of employees associated with maintenance and skilled crafts, i.e, job classes of workers performing duties that result directly in the comfort and convenience of the general public, or contribute to the maintenance of capital assets, land and infrastructure of the City
  • Professional: Nonsupervisory and non-managerial employees exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act
  • Administrative and Technical: Non-supervisory and non-managerial employees who are administrative employees or technical employees or who perform office support work and who are not confidential employees

The new ordinance was introduced during the council’s special meeting on Tuesday and brought up for consideration in the council’s subsequent Organizational Development Standing Committee meeting.

Richmond’s Chief Administrative Officer Lincoln Saunders said the city administration has not reviewed the particulars of the new legislation, but said Tuesday there are “significant areas of consensus” and there is hope to find a “unified” proposal.

Trammell asked for patience on Tuesday, concurring with other members who said that a special meeting to review the legislation would likely need to take place and amendments could be included. Councilman Michael Jones said he supports worker rights, but wants to find a plan that doesn’t threaten the city’s economic development projects.

Some city workers in support of collective bargaining said Tuesday that they want one bargaining unit for general employees, adding that it would help bring better wages, benefits and conditions for employees and improve city services. They added they want protection against retaliation and union-busting.

The council’s Organizational Development Standing Committee forwarded the legislation to a special council meeting set for July 18 with no recommendation.

For the first time in decades, localities in Virginia can vote on measures to give public employees the right to join a union and engage in collective bargaining.

The state’s longstanding ban on unions for public sector workers, which include teachers, law enforcement and firefighters, was lifted when lawmakers passed legislation in 2020. The legislation did not include collective bargaining for state employees.

This policy change led the Richmond School Board to vote 8-1 last December to make the district’s teachers the first in the state to gain collective bargaining rights to negotiate their contracts.

Richmond’s City Council could hold a final vote on collective bargaining for city workers during its July 25 meeting. If any measure is passed, city employees won’t be compelled to join a labor union.