Richmond Punts Again on Unionization Ordinance

By James C. Sherlock

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney

The Richmond City Council still has not decided whether to accept Mayor Stoney’s plan for unionization.

He has submitted an ordinance that would let Richmond walk before it runs and maintain the sensible management controls he has laid out in a draft ordinance.

Basically, he is OK with negotiating pay and benefits as long as those contracts are phased in, but he wants working conditions under management controls.

The City Council is under pressure from a strong faction to pass an alternate ordinance that permits unionization of all employees immediately and strips management of many of its rights as specified in the mayor’s bill.

The mayor has submitted his draft budget for FY 23 without the advantage of a submittal from the school board.  The school board declines to estimate the costs of the full unionization it has already approved.

By rule, Richmond City Council then studies the content of the mayor’s draft, develops applicable amendments, and adopts a balanced budget by the annual deadline of May 31.

I have what I hope is a reasonable question.

How are they doing that without a definition of the city’s path to unionization, its pace, and thus its costs.  And no school board input?

A leader of the more aggressive unionization faction of the Council, Kristen Nye, offered:

What we’re trying to do is improve the working environment of our employees and retain them.

Presumably a city government job in Richmond is considered a hardship, the work environment oppressive.

All the City Council needs to do is look northeast to D.C. for instruction on what can go wrong.  Today, District government employees are represented by 15 international unions, 48 locals, and 114 collective bargaining units.

You read that right.

The featherbedding on public display every day by the D.C. public works department defies description.  But, if you have seen a D.C. city “work crew” of ten people in hard hats standing around a pothole drinking coffee and talking baseball, it will make you consider Richmond’s city work force in a new light.

Mayor Stoney is the adult in the room on unionization of his work force.  His plan establishes rules to maintain management control and starts with one group the first year.  In his draft ordinance that group is public works.

I personally oppose unionization of public employees, but that option was passed into law by a Democratic General Assembly and a Democratic governor.

The option of declining to unionize was never going to sell in the City of Richmond.  But jumping in all at once to full unionization and little management control will cause utter chaos.

Time to break out the popcorn to watch the games in the City Council.

I hope the mayor prevails.

So should General Assembly members who will have to live with the results of that law when they are in session.


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3 responses to “Richmond Punts Again on Unionization Ordinance”

  1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    I agree with you on the question of phasing in unionization.

    Stoney seems to have grown into the job in his second term. He seems to be more interested in running a city, rather than grabbing for shiny development proposals.

    As for his budget and unionization, even after an ordinance is adopted, it will take quite awhile for the collective bargaining process to get going and any agreement reached. Therefore, any budget affects will not occur until FY 2024. The same situation applies to schools. Although collective bargaining has been approved, I don’t think the group representing school employees has been recognized, and actual collective bargaining has not begun.

    By the way, Stoney can veto an ordinance passed by the Council. However, a veto can be overridden with 5 votes.

    The Richmond School Board is even more dysfunctional that city council. It has been feuding with the superintendent and its budget process is tied up. Stoney gave the Board a deadline for submitting its requests and it missed that deadline. Therefore, his proposed budget flatlined school spending at the same level it is now. He did include an additional $15 million allocated for schools, but it was not appropriated. Council would have to vote to release the funds.

    The Council has adopted Stoney’s proposed budget.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      As far as I know, the unionization ordinance and the budget consequences still have not yet been dealt with. In whatever year they start the process, the fiscal issue of who goes first, the budget to set limits on the union contracts or the union contracts to set standards for the budget, will need to be dealt with.

      And of course there is the critical issue of workplace rules. The mayor opposes those rules being subject to negotiations. Members of the City Council want them to be negotiable. Apparently there is not a solid majority on either side.

    2. Lefty665 Avatar

      I agree with you on Stoney. He was underwhelming in his time with DPVA, and while he probably learned some things as McAuliffe’s toady that period was of little consequence.

      However, he has seemed to grow into the job as Mayor. It has been a pleasure to watch him mature as a politician. That is a process that has occurred after he got out from under McAuliffe’s corrosive wing.

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