On April 27, the City of Virginia Beach Human Resource Personnel Board ruled in favor of Mike Robinson, in Public Works, Mosquito Control, that their indefinite suspension, lasting several months, was unfair. Mike’s suspension was reduced to 5 days and he was paid full back pay from March 8 and returned back to work.
Mike was represented by Virginia Beach City Workers Union, UE organizer Chris Hollis. Fellow union members “OB” Justin Oberlander and Steven Wilson were present and testified on his behalf at the hearing. This shows that the unity and support built by having a union really make a difference in fighting for justice. As part of building the union, we plan to train up workers to become union stewards in every department so you can have these skills too!
Mike had been unfairly suspended for an alleged criminal charge violating the City’s Criminal and Administrative Charge and Conviction Policy (6.02A) and told an investigatory panel ruled that he should be suspended from work for several months until the courts ruled on the case. The union’s main argument was that this was disparate treatment, that other workers had similar criminal charges but were allowed to work until after the court made its decision. Ultimately, the union’s arguments prevailed.
Even without collective bargaining union rights, which we are in the process of winning, being a member of the union affords you representation in the City’s grievance process. We encourage all workers to sign union cards and join the union today so we can keep building union power! SIGN A CARD HERE
This is also part of a larger “Grievance for Justice” campaign where the union is collecting grievances from workers across the City about on-going concerns. One major issue we are collecting information about is the arbitrary and capricious performance evaluations that result in low merit pay. If you have copies of your recent evaluation, please share with your department union steward or bring to the next meeting.
On April 8, 2021, key UE union city worker leaders met with City Council member Sabrina Wooten. Representing UE at the meeting was Terry Green (Public Utilities, Water), Jock Hill (Public Utilities, Sewer), Devon Conley (Public Works, Highways/Stormwater), Steven Wilson (Public Works, Mosquito Control) and Dante Strobino (UE International Rep). We had 5 other workers from different departments that had planned to attend that could not make it due to illness or family responsibilities.
Overall the meeting went very well. Wooten stated very clearly that she supports us forming the union and will support a resolution for collective bargaining to pass the city council.
Our members did an excellent job speaking about the three main issues in our petition
Overhaul the entire wage structure
10% hazard pay
Stop abuse of power and threats from management
Through the course of the conversation, she explained that while the City Manager Duhaney is proposing 3% raise, she and city council member Aaron Rouse are asking for 5%, since that is what the teachers, and likely firefighters will get.
We had lots of discussion about how the entire pay scale is off track, that even a few % points would not catch us up because we are decades behind. To that point, she did respond to the union’s request for information about the current market wage study. She said the city is currently planning to set aside $3 million in the budget to go towards these salary adjustments, this includes the entire city including us and police and fire. This amount of money is completely inadequate.
She said that the study will likely be complete sometime by the fall and the council will have to vote on when the raise goes into effect, if any.
Lastly, she introduced us to Reverend Perez Gatling, who hosted the meeting at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Rev. Gatling is a powerful community and faith leader that pledged his support of our campaign. He agreed to bring our issues in front of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, a city-wide alliance of 25 churches of all faiths and races, to see if they will support us too! This could be huge!
Union dues in UE are among the lowest dues in the country. We keep our dues low because we don’t payout big executive salaries to officers or staff – we believe that if you are paid like the boss, you think like the boss. Staff cannot make more than the highest paid member of the union.
Dues are typically 2.5 hours of the average wage a month for a full time worker (part time workers pay half dues), and are set by your local union. For example, if the average worker earns $15 per hour, everyone will pay $37.50 per month. You will not pay dues until you have a contract with your employer that you vote to approve.
When Do Union Dues Start?
You Will Not Pay Union Dues Until a Union Contract is Signed. No Union Contract will be signed until You Vote on It. Union dues are typically 2.5 hours of pay per month. UE dues are among the lowest in the labor movement, and No UE dues are spent on endorsing political parties candidates or political parties.
Why Pay Union Dues?
By joining the union, and agreeing to pay union dues you are helping set up your own worker-controlled “war chest” to have resources to organize your co-workers to take on the boss and win improvements. The boss has resources to keep you down, shouldn’t you have resources to push back? A large portion of dues collected stay with your local union so that you can run your own affairs. No dues money is spent endorsing political parties or candidates.
All dues collected by city workers in Virginia Beach will go directly to a Treasurer, who is a city worker union member that you elect, who will open a local bank account. All checks from the union must be co-signed by the Local President (another city worker you elect) and the Treasurer.
A portion of those dues go to the national union who will then provide a field staff to support you in everything you need. The National Office also supports the Locals through our various departments such as Organizing, Legal, Education and Research. Being part of a national union allows you access to lots of training opportunities to better your skills. It also brings you support of people experienced in bargaining good union contracts with the City.
Can I be Fined by the Union?
No. There are no fines, fees, or assessments in UE. It’s typical in an anti-union campaign for your employer to scare you into thinking you are signing a blank check when you sign up for the union.
Who is UE?
The UE is an independent, national, Rank-And-File union with over 30,000 members across the United States. The UE is very diverse and represents workers in both the public and private sectors. The UE is known as the “Union for Everyone.”
Who Runs the Union?
You and your co-workers run your Local Union. All important decisions, such as election of officers, contracts, use of dues money, etc., are decided by the members. The Members Run This Union. You will decide what will be in the contract, who will negotiate the contract, what the dues structure will be, and more.
Can we Lose at the Bargaining Table?
When you bargain your first contract with your employer, you will start with everything you have now and build from there. They cannot take anything away without you agreeing to it. It is illegal for your employer to engage in “regressive bargaining” and they could have charges brought against them. You are always on probation without a union and your working conditions can change at any time. The real gamble is not securing your benefits in a union contract.
Can I be Retaliated Against for Supporting the Union?
It is illegal for your boss to fire, discipline or even threaten to fire or discipline you for supporting the union. It is protected under both the US and the VA State Constitutions and State Code. You may talk about the union on work time if your employer permits you to talk about any other non-work related topics. Let an organizer know immediately if you believe your rights have been violated in anyway.
Can my Boss Lie to Me?
Yes. While there are many protections under the law for workers organizing a union, there is nothing that prohibits your employer from lying to you. Your boss will lie to you to try to sway you to not sign a union card and to vote no. Remember, your boss doesn’t get a vote! Don’t let them deceive you. Contact an organizing committee member or the UE organizer if you have questions or concerns.
What is a Union Contract?
By law, your employer must negotiate with you, the union. When you negotiate a contract, you start with the pay, benefits, and working conditions you have now, and build from there. Your contract will depend on the Strength and Unity of your Membership. UE Contracts are negotiated by a committee of the members and can only be approved by a vote of the membership of the Union.
Are there Union Bosses?
In the UE, there is no such thing as a union boss. The UE Constitution prohibits UE officers and staff from making more money than our highest paid member. The union is run by workers, and the decisions for your local are made by you and your co-workers.
What are My Rights?
It’s your right to organize a union. You are protected under theUS and Virginia State Constitutions and VA State Legal Code that forbids your boss from interfering with, restraining, or coercing you and your coworkers in exercising your rights to organize.
How do I get more Involved?
Excellent! The more people involved will help ensure that you get the improvements that you seek in your current working conditions. Call Dante at 757-632-7866 or Charles at 757-842-3000 or contact your Organizing Committee member in the workplace.
2021 will be a major year of changes for city workers — the VA General Assembly has voted on a new law that will go into effect on May 1, 2021 allowing city workers, for the first time in history, to collectively bargain a union contract directly with the City Manager.
However, in order for that to happen, a majority of the City Council must vote on a resolution to support collective bargaining, such as was done with the City of Portsmouth.
City workers across VB have been signing union cards to join UE, a member-run union, so that you can speak for yourself and bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions. WE ARE TIRED OF BEGGING, WE ARE READY TO BARGAIN!
Join us on Jan. 23 to hear city workers speak out for changes, and to carry on the legacy of Dr. King, who took his last stand with striking sanitation workers in the South fighting for the same issues you are!
Mark your calendar! Join us via zoom or call in on your phone, 6pm Saturday, January 23.
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.
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