Loudoun Board Embraces Public-Employee Unions

Members of the Service Employees International Union at a recent Loudoun County board meeting. Photo credit: Loudoun Now

by James A. Bacon

Virginia’s slow-but-steady metamorphosis into New Jersey continues apace. The Loudoun County board of Supervisors has voted to let unions into county buildings to recruit public employees. Reports Loudoun Now:

Currently, under state law, state and local governments are not allowed to recognize any union or collective bargaining. … But with a new state law signed in April and going into effect in May 2021, localities may elect to recognize collective bargaining representatives, allowing unions to negotiate on behalf of employees.

Democrats on the county board are moving toward that possibility, starting with a party-line vote on Oct. 20 to allow labor associations and organizations with more than 100 members to hold open houses twice per year in the Shenandoah Building and County Government Center in Leesburg, and in the county government offices on Ridgetop Circle in Sterling. Supervisors also directed the staff to allow for those organizations to include materials in the county’s new hire packets, if they have more than 100 members who are Loudoun County government employees.

The Democrats on the Loudoun board aren’t just willing to tolerate public-employee unions. They’re embracing public-employee unions. They are welcoming state employees into the Democratic Party machine. If you understand how the political economy of public-employee unions works in New Jersey and every other state in the U.S. that engages in collective bargaining with public employees, the reasons are abundantly clear.

Step one: A political symbiosis emerges. In bargaining sessions, Democratic office holders reward public employees with higher wages and retirement benefits. Public employees reward Democratic office holders with votes and campaign contributions.

Step two: It quickly becomes apparent that higher wages must be paid for now, which increases pressure to raise taxes. Accordingly, Democrat office holders find politically easier to increase retirement benefits, which can be paid for later (if ever).

Step three: State and local governments fail to put aside enough money to pay for future retirement benefits, and unfunded liabilities increase. The underfunding is most severe in two types of states: poor states and states that bargain with public-employee unions that run up costs. As Virginia embraces public bargaining by government unions, it will move into the second category.

At present, Virginia has managed avoid letting its unfunded liabilities run out of control. According to Yahoo! Finance, “Virginia’s per-person unfunded pension liabilities increased by only 5.9% last year, placing it among the 15 lowest in the country.” The Virginia Retirement System has its issues, to be sure, but Yahoo! Finance rates it the 10th best funded in the country.

But that’s today. As our political economy increasingly resembles that of the Garden State, so will our government pension system. And New Jersey, says Yahoo! Finance, has the 10th worst pension funding in the country.

The Blue state model of governance does a wonderful job of keeping the Democratic Party coalition in power, but it runs on borrowed money and borrowed time. That’s where Virginia is heading.

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49 responses to “Loudoun Board Embraces Public-Employee Unions

  1. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Would this apply to teachers and staff of the Loudoun County Public School system? I could not tell if it covers them or not.

  2. What’s wrong with public worker unions?
    What’s wrong with New Jersey? In the more global world, it is a bigger deal than the Old Dominion.

    • If you’re OK with (1) runaway pension costs and unfunded liabilities, and (2) government workers on strike, I suppose there’s nothing wrong with public worker unions.

    • There is a big difference between private sector unions and public sector ones. In the case of the former, there is a built-in balance between the company and the union. Both are motivated to bargain in their best interests. And there can be no payments between the two entities.

      In contrast, public sector unions can and do make payments to the other side in the form of campaign contributions. So we have a conflict of interest with elected officials bargaining taxpayer dollars with an entity that has and will make payments to the other side.

      • Yes. Unions support the candidates that support unions. The GOP does not support unions, ergo, they don’t support the GOP.

        right?

        • Maybe because we don’t want to become Illinois.

          “As Illinois’ pension funds fall farther into insolvency, the money needed to prop up the funds is growing far faster than Illinois’ budget. Pension costs already make up 25 percent of Illinois’ budget – a massive amount considering the average for other states is only 4 percent. Those costs have been crowding out funding for the state’s vital services.”

          “For example, by 2025, the state will spend more of its education budget on teacher pensions than it will in the classroom. This will dramatically affect local school districts’ operational budgets – especially poorer districts with minority students that rely heavily on state funding.”

          “Despite the deepening pension crisis, defenders of the status quo – including government unions and many politicians – continue to argue against any reforms to the state’s pension systems.”

          https://www.illinoispolicy.org/reports/pensions-101-understanding-illinois-massive-government-worker-pension-crisis/

          • What makes it true that Virginia will become more like Illinois than Massachusetts?

            Bacon and company like to play fiscal boogeyman… but it’s just what they do because of their political affliction… it has little to do with reality …….

            The vast majority of States are not like Illinois but don’t let that mess up the boogeyman messaging… 😉

          • Sure, maybe conservatives should sell the voters out for union support and votes like the Democrats. Nothing bad will happen.

            And maybe I should take up smoking too.

            ‘World’s Oldest Man’ Is 114 Years Old, Smokes Every Day

            https://www.newsweek.com/worlds-oldest-man-guinness-world-record-smoking-tobacco-fredie-blom-947687

        • Once again, you’ve called this D vs R instead of addressing the clear conflict of interest in elected officials bargaining with public sector unions.

          Taking your point, labor unions can make contributions for Democrats who give unions what they want in bargaining or contributions against Republicans who don’t give unions what they want in bargaining. In either event, it’s not the same as collective bargaining in the private sector. There is an inherent conflict in public sector unions. Even FDR recognized that as he opposed public sector unions.

  3. Whatever. Public workers should have a right to organize. NJ has a lot going for it. Uva ain’t exactly Princeton. In global economic terms NJ is a much bigger player. What bugs you Jim? Not enough conservative WASPs? Long time diversity? Too much history of high tech (think Edison and Bell labs). Some of my brighter former colleagues work for McKinsey there. But you? A Virginian through and through!

    • New Jersey is living off the entrepreneurial, wealth-creating inheritance of the 19th and mid- 20th century Golden Age when it WAS a great state. Its best days are over. More people are leaving than coming.

      • Virginia’s electric chair was wired by the Adams Electric Co. of Trenton, New Jersey.

        I suppose that it was a more important consideration that it actually work than to be wired by a Virginia firm.

    • Only Illinois has a lower credit rating than New Jersey. New Jersey is six rating levels below Virginia with all of the rating agencies. The costs of state and local government Borrowing, whether bonds or bank loans, are astronomically higher in New Jersey than currently in Virginia. For everyone who has Virginia bonds in his portfolio, their value would collapse if Virginia were to attain New Jersey’s credit rating.

    • Rutgers vs UVa would be a more apt comparison. Bell Labs died along with AT&T (which is now headquartered in San Antonio).

      New Jersey had its day but that day is in the past.

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Would they let retired teachers unionize? Might as well join the left handed team. At least I could fleece the carpetbaggers since we never were paid well until recent memory.

  5. Virginia has had public employee unions for years for police. Workers deserve to be able to unionize and bargain collectively.

    • The first statement is misleading, UATW. There are associations, but no collective bargaining, no binding contracts drafted under NLRB rules for police in Virginia. That is what the General Assembly has now approved. So, if there was a “union” it was in name only, toothless until this new law.

      • Aye, you know what, mea culpa – it was late and I misread some articles, and you’re right. And please keep this sense of precision next time the people here complain about the teachers unions in the commonwealth.

  6. New Jersey schools , with unionized teachers is better than Virginia (but not by much):

    1. Massachusetts
    Massachusetts has the best public school system in the U.S. 48.8% of Massachusetts’s eligible schools ranked in the top 25% of high school rankings, a total of 167 schools.

    Massachusetts has the highest math and reading test scores in the U.S., as well as the second-highest median ACT score of 25.1.

    Massachusetts also has one of the lowest bullying incidence rates in the country and considered to be one of the best states for teachers. Massachusetts is also the most educated state in the country.

    2. Connecticut
    Connecticut ranks second in the nation for public schools, ranking second for quality and 19th for safety. Connecticut students have the highest median ACT score in the country of 25.5 and have the third-highest reading test scores. Connecticut spends about $18,958 per student, one of the highest per-pupil spendings in the country. Connecticut is also one of the best states for teachers due to having small class sizes and some of the best-paid teachers in the U.S. with an average annual salary of $73,113.

    3. New Jersey
    New Jersey has the third-best public schools in the United States. New Jersey has the second-lowest dropout rate among states and the third-lowest pupil to teacher ratio. Additionally, students have the third-highest math test scores and the second-highest reading test scores in the nation. New Jersey ranks second for overall quality of schools and 11th for safety. The state spends about $21,866 per student on average. New Jersey is considered to be the second-best state for teachers as well, with the sixth-highest average salary of $69,917 per year.

    4. Virginia
    Virginia has the fourth-best public schools overall in the United States, ranking fourth for quality and third for safety. Virginia public schools were found to have the fourth-highest math test scores in the country. Virginia schools also have the fourth-lowest bullying incidence rate and have “no significant shortcomings” when assessed for safety from violence, bullying, harassment, and substance use.

    and so much for the fallacy than public schools are a “failure”… except in the minds of those who are “anti” public education and “anti” public-sector unions…

    • “New Jersey schools … is better than Virginia”. Apparently so. 🙂

      • The top 3 schools in the US are unionized?

        • It was a joke Larry (hence the smiley face). You used a plural subject and a singular verb – New Jersey schools … is …”. Given that you were educated in Virginia I thought it funny.

          More troublesome than a typo in a comment is your inability or unwillingness to address the actual issue at hand … fiscal responsibility. Jim Bacon outlined the issue with public sector unionization by using boldfaced text describing Step one:, Step two: and Step three:. You ignore the actual issue of Jim’s article and muddle on about the quality of education in New Jersey vs Virginia (which are roughly equal). Where did Jim claim that unionization would harm the quality of education? Where do you address Jim’s point about fiscal responsibility?

          • Jim’s premise seems to be that states with public sector unions are fiscally irresponsible.

            It’s nice anti-tax stuff to throw again the wall but the truth is that some states with public sector unionis not only have decent credit ratings but also some of the best schools in the country because they pay teachers well.

            Virginia is not among the states that pay teachers well. Is that fiscally responsible?

  7. Jim’s premise is actually that fiscally irresponsible states are often brought to fiscal irresponsibility via overly generous public sector employee benefits. That’s the case in California, Illinois and (I think) New Jersey – probably other states as well. However, in Virginia – it’s worse. We have no limits on campaign contributions to state politicians. We are more susceptible than the vast majority of states to having our political class compromised by entities willing to spend large amounts of money to get what they want. That certainly has been true for Dominion. Why will it not be true for public employee unions which will now use the threat of strikes to leverage themselves for goodies like increased retirement benefits that don’t have to be funded with tax hikes today?

  8. “Jim’s premise seems to be that states with public sector unions are fiscally irresponsible.”

    As a generality, that statement is true and defensible. Some states with public-employee unions do a less bad job of funding their pension plans than others. But as a rule the statement is true. Illinois and New Jersey are among the worst.

  9. Look at ALL of the states that have not good credit ratings and tell me how many of them are not union and instead right-to-work.

    Jim’s premise has SOME correlation but the opposite of his premise ALSO has some correlation… and in the end, his premise is more standard Conservtive belief than reality.

    Massachusetts AA+ Number 1 best schools in USA
    Connecticut AA- Number 2 best schools in USA

    Why can’t Virginia be like them?

    Why not? Because it violates deeply held Conservative beliefs!

    • It’s almost as if applying uni-causal explanations (here, that unions destroy everything) to something as complicated as a state’s economy is a bad idea! And that measuring the state’s worthiness by its credit rating is also overly simplistic*, but no…no…pay no attention to the Minnesota behind the curtain!

      *It’s also always an ouroboros: good credit rating is only meaningful if the state intends to indebt itself via borrowing or bonds, but the state should never do that because it would hurt our credit rating.

      • It’s almost as if applying uni-causal explanations (here, that unions destroy everything)…

        UATW, it sounds like you’ve been taking strawman lessons from Larry. I have not read a single comment on this blog suggesting that unions “destroy everything.” I certainly don’t hold that view.

        My post, and those of the conservatives’ comments that followrd, have highlighted the fiscal dangers posed by public-sector unions. That’s not the same as suggesting that “unions destroy everything.” Private-sector unions play a critical role in a market economy by increasing workers’ bargaining power with corporations. One does not have to agree with the AFL-CIO’s legislative wish list to acknowledge that unions — the right of workers to freely band together to increase their bargaining power — are foundational to a free society.

        • re: ” he right of workers to freely band together to increase their bargaining power — are foundational to a free society.”

          and why not the same for public sector workers – like Police and EMS, for instance?

          • Because public-service unions make campaign and in-kind contributions to the very public officials who they negotiate with.

          • re: ” Because public-service unions make campaign and in-kind contributions to the very public officials who they negotiate with.”

            Not true for schools in Virginia. The BOS funds not the school boards and they do it on a total budget basis not line-item. (like wages).

            Police and Fire actually DO lobby the BOS for raises. They pack the meeting room and have their friends and neighbors lobby the BOS.

            And I don’t think union contributions to candidates have near as much impact as actual voting and organizing voting and I suspect even if contributions were outlawed, you’d still not favor. Right?

          • Why not for public sector workers? Because of the inherent conflict of interest when one party to a labor agreement can give money to the public officials who must approve the agreement or to an official’s opponent. Similarly, they can make endorsement of those officials or their opponents.

            If the laws were changed such that labor unions could not participate in electoral politics, e.g., no endorsements, no rallies, no PACs, no campaign contributions, no door-to-door literature distribution and knocking, no phone banks, the question might be a bit different. But without the pay-backs from public sector unions to elected officials and candidates for office, there would be no reason to make any major concessions to the public sector labor union during collective bargaining. It would be just like private sector collective bargaining.

            Without collective bargaining, Fairfax County’s unfunded pension liabilities for its employees (excluding teachers) was $2.8 billion as of June 30, 2020. That’s an increase of one billion dollars in nine years. Yet, since FY 2011, annual taxpayer contributions to the County’s pension plans have risen from $172 million to $355 million in FY2020.

            Assuming collective bargaining with public sector unions active in election campaigns, imagine what the next nine fiscal years will look like.

          • In Virginia, lobbying the School Board won’t necessarily get wage increases. The School Board can incorporate inceases in their budget but the BOS has to approve and if that means a tax increase then all county taxpayers become involved.

            That means there is not a a direct connection between the union and the leaders that actually pay for wage increases and, in fact, all taxpayers become part of the process.

            Now some NoVa cynics might claim that the BOS is feckless and will pay anyhow but I’d argue that if taxes go up too fast and too high the voters will have a say in it.

            In other counties in Virginia – it would be even tougher where (like my county), the BOS almost never fully funds the School Board request if it requires an increase in property taxes.

            About all they will do is allow the schools to keep revenue increases as a result of higher assessments and even then the BOS tries to use equalized taxes approach.

            I think some of this is much ado over nothing. It’s just a standard Conservative “anti” position.

    • Larry, your ability to change the subject is unparallelled. I am almost in awe of your ability to shamelessly segue into topics that are irrelevant to the previous conversation. My post was about the fiscal implications of bargaining with public-sector unions. In a desperate bid to admit the obvious, you’re now talking about educational outcomes.

      That’s a subject for a different post. But I’ll give you a clue to what my response would be. It is true that Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut have high educational outcomes. That’s because roughly 60% of the variability in educational outcomes can be explained by the socioeconomic status of the students. Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey have among the highest per-capita incomes of the 50 states, and their populations are highly educated as well.

      Those states spend more on their schools as well. Let’s just say for now that it is a debatable proposition that the additional spending makes much of a difference.

      • Actually not.

        Youre premise is that State that approve teacher unions are fiscally irresponsible and I’m show you that is false. Both states not only have high credit ratings but their unionized workforce produces excellent results.

        The premise – unions breed fiscal irresponsibility because of pensions.

        the reality – nope – and that’s totally on subject, I just added the performance of teachers as an “extras” but the essential premise is that states with unions have good credit ratings.

        And I can show you states with right-to-work laws that have not only poor credit ratings but also poor education outcomes because they do not pay teachers a fair wage with pensions.

        • I can assure you that, at least as far as a place like Manassas, Virginia is concerned, poor education outcomes have a lot less to do with teacher salaries and a lot more to do with the trash that calls the place home. This has been true for upwards of 30 years.

          What kind of parent lets their kid wear Big Johnson T-shirts to school? A Manassas, VA parent, that’s who.

          • James Wyatt Whitehead V

            Goes back further than 30 years ago if you can remember when you could see from one end of Manassas Mall to the other. Mathis Avenue on Friday nights was always a show too.

          • Yes, Mathis was “the strip” and “cruising the strip” was a popular thing up until about the early 90s when Manassas started to crack down on it.

          • Virginia is ranked in the top 10 in the nation and 4th in some rankings on K-12. There’s always room for improvement and in fact, compared to the rest of the developed world,we need to.

            But what I was pointing out is that states with teacher unions are not only the best in the US but they also have good credit ratings; They are not “fiscally irresponsible” just because they have teachers unions. I ask, why canj’t Virginia be that way also ESPECIALLY since in Virginia elected school boards do not decide the budget and funding, the BOS does.

        • Because Virginia is essentially a poor southern state.

  10. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Line item collective bargaining contracts for teachers will remove flexibility from teachers and school administrators. That flexibility can be useful in serving the interests of students. Look at how local education associations have held the classroom hostage this year by threatening not to show up for work. Imagine what they will do with the power of collective bargaining. This will serve the interests of “Red for Ed” quite well and students are not in mind.

    • The way that works in Virginia – would be for teachers to meet with the Administrator and School Board and make their case for all manner of line-item issues upon which the School Board would incorporate into a top-level budget but then that budget has to go to the BOS .

      This is, depending on one’s point of view, a safeguard from teachers directly negotiating for wages – because at the BOS level which approval of the school budget is done – also have taxpayers involved.

      The BOS will be dealing with union members but also taxpayers.

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        Budget time is already as tough as a jello wrestling match. It will become even tougher in the near future.

        I like the story of United Mine Workers boss John Lewis. He was a skilled and cunning labor leader. His work uplifted millions and might have staved off a sharp turn to socialism in the 1920s. I never understood why he turned down Coolidge’s offer to become the Labor Secretary. Post WW2, Lewis falls to the ash heap in the Taft Hartley Act struggle. Powerful man who steam rolled some of the might captains of industry and political machines of his time.

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