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.