Category Archives: Government workers and pensions

What’s the Matter with Charlottesville?

Charlottesville City Council. Photo credit: The Daily Progress

by James A. Bacon

In his bestselling book of 2007, Thomas Franks asked the question, What’s the Matter with Kansas? Why do blue-collar inhabitants of the Sunflower State, he wondered, so consistently vote for Republican politicians who pursue policies supposedly antithetical to their material self-interest? Perhaps the answer is that level-headed Kansans could see where the progressive policies of the Democratic Party would take them.

In Washington, D.C., progressive policies are diluted by our republic’s system of checks and balances. But there are places where the end game of progressivism has been revealed in all its unadulterated glory. One such place is San Francisco,  with its homeless encampments, open-air drug use, fecal-strewn streets, people lying passed out on sidewalks, flash-mob shoplifting, and shuttered stores.

Fortunately, Virginia has no analogue to San Francisco. That’s not for a lack of emulation. Progressives here just haven’t held the levers of power as long. But Virginians can get a close-up look of progressive political culture at work in Charlottesville. The home-town newspaper, The Daily Progress, has just published an analysis — “Charlottesville faces major challenges following mass departure of city leaders” — that might aptly have been headlined, “What’s the Matter with Charlottesville?” Continue reading

Now EMT Workers Are in Short Supply

Image credit: News & Advance

by James A. Bacon

Bedford County, an 800-square-mile county in Central Virginia, is theoretically staffed to operate six medic units. Based on call volume, the county could justify maintaining eight units, reports the News & Advance. But on most days one or two of the six are out of service because of insufficient staff to fill them. One day recently, the county had only one paramedic on duty.

The result: longer response times. Delays are potentially a matter of life and death.

The likely root causes of EMT shortages are overwork and insufficient pay, although COVID-related disruptions to training programs have also been a factor in the past year. It is not uncommon for emergency services personnel to work more than 100 hours of overtime a month, sometimes in 72-hour shifts. EMT Jason Morgan says he has not seen a merit increase or cost of living increase since 2004 or 2005. Nationally, shortages are most acute among paramedics, who require more years of education and training.

The chronic teacher shortages in Virginia have gotten considerable media attention, as has the shortage of police officers. It should surprise no one that emergency service personnel are in short supply as well. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: People’s Republic Update

How’s this for irony? The only thing saving the City Council of the People’s Republic of Charlottesville from increasing dysfunction in the future is dysfunctional governance today. City Council wants to draft an ordinance that would outline collective bargaining rights for employees, enabling them to negotiate for higher salaries and changes to working conditions — creating new spending pressures, new labor tensions and new areas for conflict. In August Council directed the city manager to research how much money would be needed to support the human resources department in such an endeavor. Trouble is, Charlottesville can’t hire a city manager. The announced interim city manager just resigned. And it turns out that City Hall has no human resources director either. So reports the Daily Progress.

The cultural cleansing shall continue. City Council has approved the sale of Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee statue to a group that will melt it down and turn it into new artwork. After the city took down the statue of the Confederate hero over the summer, it received six proposals from arts groups, historical societies and individuals” with offers up to $50,000 for the bronze sculpture, reports The Washington Post. City Council chose instead to give the statue to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center to advance a project to “allow Charlottesville to contend with its racist past.” I’ve only got one question: If the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center is so distraught about the racism embodied in statues and memorials, why is it still named the Jefferson School?

The no-solar solar capital. No part of Virginia outdoes the People’s Republic when it comes to enthusiasm for renewable energy, at least in the abstract. Charlottesville and Albemarle County are home to numerous renewable energy companies — Sun Tribe, Hexagon Energy and Apex Energy among them, not to mention the Clean Virginia pro-renewables advocacy group. Charlottesville/ Albemarle is an ideal location for solar projects in at least one way: proximity to high-capacity electric transmission lines. But the Department of Environmental Quality’s “environmental data mapper” shows only two utility-scale solar projects in Albemarle — and neither are producing. Continue reading

Bill LaVecchia: Model Public Servant

Bill LaVecchia

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Bill LaVecchia died recently at the age of 95. He was an example of the best in professional public employees.

He was a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War. He earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Virginia Tech, and, subsequently,  a master’s in municipal engineering and public administration, as well. After working in municipal government in Tennessee and the town of Blacksburg, he was hired as Henrico County’s second planning administrator in 1959. He was to be an integral part of the management team that guided Henrico County over several decades from a largely rural county to one of the state’s large urban counties. His career culminated as county manager from 1984 until his retirement in 1992.

One of his most consequential actions occurred soon after he came to work for Henrico. He persuaded his boss, county manager Ed Beck, to attend hearings on the location of then-planned Interstate 64. They were the only administrators from the region attending and were ultimately successful in lobbying for a northern route for I-64 that brought it through Henrico.

Bill’s was not a household name, nor did it appear a lot in print. He probably preferred it that way. He was content to let others take on the public roles.

In addition to being a highly competent professional, more importantly, he was a genuinely nice person and had a humble air about him.

I was fortunate to have known and worked with him.

Local Collective Bargaining Off to Slow Start

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Although the alarm bells have sounded repeatedly on this blog, there has not been a rush to establish public employee bargaining in Virginia. Today, about a year and a half after the General Assembly enacted the authorizing law, and six months after it went into effect, only three jurisdictions have enacted ordinances authorizing collective bargaining, with another jurisdiction, Loudoun County, scheduled to vote on an ordinance on November 10, which seems likely to pass. In contrast, at least three jurisdictions have officially said “no” to collective bargaining.

Furthermore, none of the four collective bargaining ordinances, either adopted or pending to date, include teachers. School boards oversee the schools and will be the ones to consider collective bargaining by their employees, including teachers. So far, no local group of teachers has been authorized to engage in collective bargaining, nor has any group officially requested to do so.

The localities are all in Northern Virginia. In addition to the pending vote in Loudoun, the city of Alexandria and the counties of Fairfax and Arlington have approved a collective bargaining ordinance. One city, Portsmouth, went as far as to have an ordinance drafted by staff, but then backed away when it came to adopting it. Continue reading

Schools Desperately Short of Bus Drivers; Carpooling App Needed

by James C. Sherlock

A Fairfax County Public Schools Twitter message August 19:

“If you can walk with or drive your child (and perhaps a neighbor’s), please do. Also, we ask that you update your transportation status through your school, if you choose to not have your child take the bus.”

WTOP reported that as of Aug. 12, Fairfax County Public Schools was short 190 drivers.

Parents have already made plans and notified school districts if their children will be bus riders. I expect that the interlocking administration and logistics of car pools and buses to T-bone one another because of the late start and lack of preparation for the car pool option at scale. But that is where many districts are.

Driving a school bus is a difficult, nerve wracking and hazardous job. The training required makes them professional drivers. The demand for such skills and the pay and benefits in the private sector are very high and growing because of a labor shortage in the face of increasing demand.

Like pretty much every other type of blue collar work. Continue reading

Virginia Law Leaves Public Unions Unbound

by F. Vincent Vernuccio

First published this morning by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, where Vernuccio is Visiting Fellow. 

Twenty-eight years after Governor Doug Wilder signed it into law, the Virginia General Assembly lifted the ban on public sector collective bargaining. As of May 1, localities in Virginian could give government unions a monopoly to represent all employees at a particular worksite.

However, the law passed in Richmond is unique from other states as it sets virtually no guidelines on what government unions can bargain over and how they can be formed. Thankfully, it also does not mandate public sector collective bargaining, allowing localities to keep the status quo that the Commonwealth has had for decades.

First and foremost, it should be pointed out that localities can reject public sector collective bargaining. There is good reason to do so, as simply administering the process is expensive. In fact, localities that are considering allowing bargaining are estimating hundreds of thousands or even seven figures for ongoing costs for negotiations and compliance. This spending will not go for better wages or benefits for current public employees or better services for citizens —it is simply to hire more employees to administer the infrastructure of bargaining.

The costs alone could be a large reason that, while the state law allows public employees to petition their local elected officials to vote on allowing bargaining, those representatives will vote no and keep the process that has worked in the Commonwealth for generations. Continue reading

The One-Sided Decision in the Reversion of Martinsville – the Start of a Trend?

by James C. Sherlock

The Martinsville Bulletin, perhaps the best remaining newspaper in the state for local coverage, published a must-read article on the reversion of Martinsville from city to town and joining Henry County.

Overview

Martinsville’s current city logo, above, was perhaps prescient. Martinsville has been hemorrhaging population, losing more than 18% in the past 10 years, and was financially stressed before that loss.

Reversion in Virginia is a one-handed game. The small cities hold all of the cards.

Henry County is vocally opposed but feels helpless to stop it. The Henry County Supervisors voted to skip the legal process to avoid the costs. They called the reversion MOU “the best we could hope for and voted for it to avoid years of court battles”.

They are right  What they avoided was the special court that would have overseen the reversion under Virginia law had they not come to an agreement. The county would have been a defendant in a trial.

The rules for that court specified in that law give the small cities every advantage in a trial. That same special court would have overseen the transition for a decade. Every decision.

The changes reversion portends for city and county residents are massive. Now that his has happened, does anyone think this will be the last reversion? Continue reading

VDOE Equity Director Improperly Used State Resources to Establish a Consulting Business

Leah Dozier Walker. Credit: www.leahdozierwalker.com.

On Sept. 10, 2019, the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) received a hotline complaint. The complaint alleged that the Virginia Department of Education’s director of equity and community engagement, Leah Dozier-Walker, was “using state resources to establish a consulting company” performing “many of the same job functions” she performed for her job, according to a redacted summary report released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Additional allegations claimed that Dozier-Walker did not report the side business in her conflict-of-interest form, and that “state time” was being used for the business without Dozier-Walker signing a form for an approved outside business.

The OSIG report concluded that Allegation #1, alleging an unethical consulting business, was “sustained,” and Allegation #2 was “largely substantiated.”

Dozier-Walker is still listed in the Virginia state employee directory as Leah D. Walker , an employee of the Virginia Department of Education-Central Office Operations. Continue reading

Alexandria Stands with Government Unions, Not Workers

by F. Vincent Vernuccio

In mid-April, the City of Alexandria passed an ordinance allowing government unions to bargain with the city. Unfortunately, many of the ordinance’s provisions are lopsided: they grant special advantages for government unions to easily organize public employees and trap workers into paying dues.

Alexandria’s lopsided ordinance. Alexandria’s ordinance makes it is easy for a union to petition for an election, which the ordinance says may happen in several ways, “including, without limitation, electronic authorizations and voice authorizations.” Once there is a determination by a labor relations administrator or the city manager that a majority of employees have given authorization, no one can challenge the petition.

In a sense, if a union were to use ambiguous language to trick an employee over the phone, and that employee were to respond with “yes,” the union may show that the employee wants the union to represent them – even though that may not really be the case if the employee is not informed of both their rights and of all the facts. Once the LRA makes a determination, the employee would have no recourse to say that verbal “yes” was not what they meant, or to rescind their indication of approval. Continue reading

Public Sector Collective Bargaining Could Impose Massive New Costs

by F. Vincent Vernuccio

While local governments in Virginia debate whether to allow public sector collective bargaining, many are already pointing to the high cost of implementing the process.

Fairfax County is forecasting a combined $1.6 million for administrative costs surrounding collective bargaining for both the county and the Fairfax school district, just as a start.

Loudoun County proposed almost $1 million in their planned FY 2022 budget just for increased staffing and overhead. However, with a $2 million funding shortfall some are starting to rethink the proposed expenditure.

The city of Alexandria estimates administrative costs alone will cost between $500,000 and $1 million per year. This amount varies depending on the scope of bargaining and how many individual unions they need to negotiate with.

Since there is no statewide infrastructure set up, each local government will be on its own. Continue reading

May Day Brings Virginia’s Labor Revolution

“Liberty Leading the People,” Eugene Delacroix.

by Steve Haner

Four major changes in Virginia’s labor laws delayed at the beginning of the COVID-19 recession will all take effect May 1. All were approved by the 2020 General Assembly once Democrats controlled both legislative chambers and then delayed at the 2020 Veto Session. May Day 2021 is almost here.

Minimum Wage. The 31% increase in the state’s minimum wage, from $7.25 to $9.50 per hour, will have the broadest impact. House Bill 395 and Senate Bill 7 also raised the hourly minimum wage to $11 eight months later, on January 1, 2022, and to $12 a year later on January 1, 2023.  Continue reading

The Destruction of STEM Teaching

by William C. Lyons

It is a rare instance of bipartisan agreement that Virginia needs to graduate more students with STEM degrees to meet the burgeoning demand for employees with backgrounds in science, technology and engineering. At considerable expense, Virginia colleges and universities have been expanding their STEM programs. But will there be enough students graduating from Virginia high schools to fill the available slots? A critical bottleneck at the K-12 level is finding enough teachers capable of teaching math and science.

William C. Lyons, an Overland Park, Kansas, educator, has expended considerable thought on what ails STEM education in the U.S. I have extracted the following from his essay, “Fixing American’s K through 12 STEM Teaching Problems and a Few Other Items Along the way.” The document provides insight into the political economy of education and the failure of STEM teaching that I have not seen anywhere else. — JAB

Today various public and private school systems continuously publish ads for new hires who have the ability and experience to teach STEM preparatory subjects for grades 4 through 12. At the present time, any new graduates with a college or university BA or BS in mathematics or in one of the sciences who aspire to become K through 12 teachers are required to go through extensive time and money consuming additional course work from an accredited Department of Education at a local state college or university. Continue reading

Rich Jurisdictions Vote with Their Feet on the Virginia Department of Health

by James C. Sherlock

M. Norman Oliver M.D., Virginia Health Commissioner

A couple of days ago Antonio Olivo broke a story  in The Washington Post that told of a law permitting Loudoun and Prince William counties to form independent health departments. It awaits Governor Northam’s signature.

Having seen the performance of the Department of Health during COVID, they have decided they cannot depend on their state-run health districts. They are not breaking new ground, as Fairfax and Arlington Counties already made the change in 1995 and 1998 respectively.

We have written much in this space about the dangerous shortcomings of the Virginia Department of Health exposed by COVID, including its planning, exercise, nursing home inspection, testing and vaccination programs.

Now it appears that an increasing number of our wealthier local governments get it and want to take health district matters into their own hands. Continue reading

Virginia Has a Talent Pipeline Problem, Not a Systemic Racism Problem

by James A. Bacon

Among Virginia’s 57,000 classified state employees, black workers are under-represented in leadership positions, writes the Richmond Times-Dispatch today.

“Inequity had a 401-year head start here. It’s easy to say we’re not moving quickly enough, and I agree,” said Chief Diversity Officer Janice Underwood in an interview with the  RTD. “Racism has been institutionalized, and we now have to do that with diversity and inclusion.”

Underwood is the prime mover behind the ONE Virginia plan that will put Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiatives into place across state government. The RTD describes how the Northam administration hopes to “institutionalize” DE&I plans with the force of law so they have staying power even after Underwood and her mentor Governor Ralph Northam are gone.

Sadly, Underwood totally misdiagnoses the problem. Blacks are not under-represented in state government leadership positions because of “structural racism” as conventionally understood, they are under-represented because insufficient numbers have the educational credentials needed to rise in state government. That is the underlying problem, and ONE Virginia’s DE&I initiatives won’t change that. Continue reading