Meeting was positive, but time for action is now – SIGN THE UNION CARD TODAY!
On December 9, nine (9) elected Virginia Beach City Worker Union (UE) leaders met with City Council members Michael Berlucchi and Jessica Abbott. Workers included: Dwayne Arthur (Public Works, Mosquito Control), Jason Smith (Public Works Custodial), Jock Hill (Public Utilities, Sewer Collection), Butch Nicholson (Public Utilities, Sewer Collection), Marvin Tatem (Public Utilities Sewer Collection), Terry Green (Public Utilities, Water Distribution), D’Angelo Fletcher (Public Works, Stormwater), Kenneth Bose (Parks & Recreation), Paul Manville (Kempsville Library) and Dante Strobino (UE International Representative).
The purpose of the meeting was to follow-up on the petition of demands delivered at the November 17 City Council meeting.
New Pay Scale
The first issue was to discuss the need for an entirely new pay scale for all city workers. Many workers stressed the difficulties of working for the city for 20-30 years, dedicating one’s life, yet still not being able to buy a house in the city, because the wages are so low. It was reported that most city workers are forced to take on a 2nd or 3rd job just to pay their bills. This is a shame, given the essential work that we perform to keep the city running.
It was also reported that many other cities in the surrounding areas, that are of comparable size and cost of living, have higher wage scales. Workers also reported getting information that contractors (not for Abacus, but others) are being paid higher to do the same work as city employees.
Council members reported that, after our many actions over the last few months, the City is now in the progress of undergoing a new market rate study on our wage scale. We expressed that this market rate study needs to be done comparing cities of comparable size and cost of living like Washington DC, Charlotte, NC and Atlanta, GA and not just compare wages to other smaller cities/counties like Suffolk and Henrico County, like the past studies have done. We also suggested that if they do such a study, our worker leaders should be part of a committee that helps to give input into how the study is conducted, and that there needs to be transparency in the process.
By the numbers:
$66,000 — the amount a worker would need to earn to support a family while living in Virginia Beach — according to City Council member Abbott. For many, this is above even the top of their pay scales!
$24,273 — the amount workers start at in many departments, even with requirements of a CDL A license.
$22,048 — starting wage for custodial staff and others.
2011 – The last year that the City had performed a Market Rate Study.
$16,911 – Amount that a Equipment Operator IV with 19 years of seniority makes in Virginia Beach LESS than compared to the same position and years in City of Durham, where UE has been active for over 25 years, winning wage increases. According to the current wage scale, this worker in VB is making $47,444 today, compared to $64, 355 if they worked in Durham, NC, which has a lower cost of living.
The second main issue we focused on was the need for on-going hazard pay of 10% on each check. The one time bonus was fine, but it has now been 3 months since that was paid out, and COVID-19 + cases are going way up.
Workers reported to getting on average of 3-6 sometimes more noticies every day of city buildings that are exposed to workers that test + for COVID-19.
Rest in Peace Jose Mendez! It was also reported that a supervisor in the Streets Maintenance department, and his wife, have passed away from COVID-19 on September 15 and the city has done little to nothing to recognize their passing. City Council members present were not even aware of their passing away.
Council members Berlucchi and Abbott reported not having any oversight or knowledge of how the hazard pay bonuses were distributed, including that some workers did not get the full $1,500 bonus. Butch and Marvin reported that they had used the childcare of other leave provisions allowed as part of the Family First Coronavirus Act, but were then not given the full hazard pay amount, despite working most of the pandemic.
Regarding workplace safety, many workers reported not feeling safe at work especially with the city not distributing adequate PPE to keep us safe, or doing any testing or screening. Many employers are taking temperatures and screening for symptoms as workers come in each morning, but the City of VB has not implemented this at all. Council member Berlucchi reported meeting with a tech company that is producing eye retina scanners that can take accurate body temperatures to screen for fevers. They are considering purchasing these for the entrances of each building for workers to take temperature each morning. Much more action is needed on this!
TREATMENT FROM MANAGEMENT
The third issue on our petition was management treatment. Many workers reported unfair treatment, changes in policies, and nepotism. There was lots of discussion, for over an hour, on these issues.
City Council member Abbott reported that 5 men, with a sum of over 200 years of city experience recently retired. There is now a big opportunity to bring in younger and better management to support the needs of workers.
Much of the discussion focused on the taking away of overtime and on-call pay with policy changes in recent years.
There was lots of discussion about nepotism and favoritism in promotions. An example was given of an employee who had only been working for 8 years in Public Utilities Sewer who was recently promoted to Assistant Superintendent, passing over many workers with many more years of experience and knowledge. Both council members expressed interest in working with us on this subject, including getting more specific examples to highlight the problem. There was discussion about the need for more cross-training, as well as respect for our seniority.
The final topic we discussed was the City Council passing a resolution in support of Collective Bargaining, to allow the city worker union members to bargain directly with the City Manager over wages, benefits and working conditions. This is based on a recent change in the law, passed by the Virginia General Assembly earlier this year, which changes the historic anti-union law effective May 1, 2021.
Council member Berlucchi expressed clear and adamant support for collective bargaining. He said “negotiations are an American value”, stating that everyone should be able to negotiate over the terms of their employment. That negotiations are important to a thriving democracy and would allow the city to function better.
Council member Abbott was a little more reserved and did not express support or opposition. She said it would be hard for her because her constituency is mostly older voters, who are opposed to unions. She reported that after our city council action, they received anti-union emails from constituencies that had lost their jobs or who felt that city workers are already paid enough. It will be important for us to do more community outreach to build community support to help educate these people and build more mass support.
We shared with them a copy of the resolution that the City of Portsmouth passed on September 22, to show them that it is possible!
There are 11 City council members, including the Mayor. This means we need 6 votes to get a majority to pass a resolution. We will need to do serious work to win over a majority to support us on this issue. They expressed interest in a follow-up meeting, which we will be planning in the coming months.
Having a strong majority of workers sign union cards will be a critical first step! SIGN A UNION CARD TODAY! Talk to leaders in your department, or contact us at 757-632-7866