RICHMOND Va. (WRIC)– City workers want the right to fight for better benefits and pay — and Richmond City Council is one step closer to approving that proposal.
Previously, there have been several proposals to give city employees the right to collectively bargain, including a paper introduced by Mayor Levar Stoney.
Earlier this month, City Council members Reva Trammell and Kristen Nye introduced legislation, which now has promise.
In the meantime, city workers have been waiting for this for years. They have actively advocated for an ordinance to be passed.
Ben Himmelfarb, the Acting Library and Community Services Manager at Richmond Public Library, said he’s one of hundreds who came together to unionize last fall. They hope to choose the affiliate SEIU Virginia 512, a statewide organization, to represent them.
According to Himmelfarb, expensive benefits and not being paid a livable wage while rent is skyrocketing, are major concerns for some city employees.
He believes a collective bargaining ordinance is the first step to give them the power to advocate for their wages and benefits.
“For people like me who work for the city, want to work for the city, and want to live in the city, most of our wages are not keeping up with the cost of living in the City of Richmond,” Himmelfarb said.
He’s part of a committee made up of workers across multiple departments like Public Works (DPW), Public Utilities (DPU), Social Services and Finance.
“Our bottom line is that city workers know what we need. We are the experts in delivering public services. We’ve been doing it for years. Some of us have spent our whole careers here,” Himmelfarb said. “Some of us come from other places, but we know what the public needs and deserves, and we know what we need and deserve in order to give that to the public.”
Everett Fields works for the Department of Public Works.
Fields has worked for the city for 27 years. Fields told 8News that his main concerns are housing and benefits.
“There has been an unwillingness to even talk to us meaningfully,” Fields said.
According to Himmelfarb, Public Works employees would like an ordinance passed that brings them to the table so that they can negotiate for a legally binding contract.
City leaders and employees have been meeting regularly for months.
Stephanie Lynch, who represents the 5th District on City Council, said that the process has been a “labor of love.” Lynch said city leaders have come very far and had to get over some big hurdles. She believes now that all sides were able to bend in order to compromise, and recent amendments will set the city up for solid and good infrastructure for union participation.
“I feel really good about it,” Lynch said.
Lynch, along with Mayor Levar Stoney are expected to sign on.
“I appreciate the collaboration between council and administration to reach an agreement on a responsive an responsible collective bargaining paper that will support both our workers and our citizens,” Stoney said.
Councilman Michael Jones, who represents the 9th District told 8News that he plans to sign on as well.
“If you work 40 to 50 hours a week, someone should be able to live comfortably,” Jones said. “That’s what we’re fighting for. We’ve never been anti-union. We always wanted to see them represented.”
City Council members will meet on Monday, July 18, at 3 p.m. to discuss recent amendments. However, there has been concern among workers about the time set for the afternoon — it’s in the middle of the work day.
Katherine Jordan, who represents the 2nd District, wrote about being pleased with the result in her most recent newsletter and suggested that residents tune in and weigh in:
“I am happy to share that it appears a consensus has been achieved. I am proud of the work done to get to this point, and thankful to my colleagues for their leadership, and to the countless City workers and residents who have made their voices heard on this issue over the past number of months. I look forward to a discussion of the ordinance on Monday, and I encourage you to tune in and weigh in.”Katherine Jordan, 2nd District City Council member
Members on City Council are hoping to pass the ordinance on July 25.