Virginia Beach City Workers Demand Collective Bargaining, End to Jim Crow Legacy

Virginia Beach city workers held a rally and press conference at City Hall on Tuesday, January 18, demanding a real voice for safety, dignity, living wages and an end to institutional racism on the job. The members of newly formed Virginia Beach City Workers Union, UE Local 111, were joined by supporters from the faith community in calling on the Virginia Beach City Council to pass a resolution in support of collective bargaining.

Alfred “Red” McClenny

“We have to confront this systematic racism and racial disparity that manipulates the city’s decision making when it comes to social and economic equality,” said Alfred “Red” McClenny, who works in waste management for the Department of Public Works. “I feel collective bargaining is a step to help us bridge that racial divide.”

Minister Gary McCollum said, “As faith leaders in our beloved city, we implore you to search long and deep in your hearts to consider the many contributions from our city employees, who have maintained our city through a devastating pandemic, as a cherished tourist destination.”

Minister Gary McCollum

McCollom pointed out that “Last year’s Waste Management work stoppage highlighted for all of us the overarching concerns for city employees to have their voices heard around wages, systemic racism, benefits and working conditions. … There is now a historic opportunity to right the past injustices by allowing city workers to collectively bargain.”

Rev. Dr. James Allen, president of Virginia Beach’s Interdenominational Ministerial Conference, also spoke in favor of collective bargaining rights.

A new law, effective since May of 2021, allows municipal workers in Virginia to exercise the right to collective bargaining once their city council passes a resolution supporting it. Five local governments across Virginia have passed such resolutions to date. The new law partially overturns the state’s ban on collective bargaining by public employees, a racist legacy of the Jim Crow era.

Low Pay, Short Staffing and Dangerous Working Conditions

Terry Green

In November, the Virginia Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis released a report that found that nine out of ten city employees in Virginia Beach cannot afford to raise even a single child within the city limits. For the last several months, hundreds of city workers have quit their jobs out of frustration with the stressful work environment, low pay and lack of a real voice.

“Working in the water department is becoming completely impossible due to so many staff leaving,” said Terry Green, who works for the city’s public water utility. “The city used to have eight water crews, now we are down to less than three crews to cover the whole city. We are working lots of overtime to cover all the water main breaks and keep the water running for the residents.”

With the Omnicron variant of COVID-19 rapidly spreading, workers are now facing on-going dangerous working conditions. Patricia Thebert, a behavior specialist at the West Neck Intermediate Care Facility, said “In Human Services we are currently experiencing over a quarter of our staff testing positive with COVID due to the Omnicron variant. The City has not done enough to keep us safe through the pandemic.”

Carrying on Dr. King’s Legacy

Patricia Thebert

The event was held the day after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. Dr. King Jr took his last stand supporting city workers in Memphis, Tennessee demanding the same rights that Virginia Beach city workers are now demanding.

“When I read about Dr. King’s support for workers organizing a union to challenge unsafe work conditions in Memphis, and their fight for collective bargaining over 50 years ago, I can’t help but be disappointed that we still have to fight for those same rights today,” said Thebert. “We need a real voice on the job through a union to help retain staff and dignified working conditions,” added Green. 

Teresa Stanley, a member of Tidewater Sowers and a parishioner at Church of the Holy Apostles and member of the City’s Human Relations Commission, declared that “The sin of systemic racism has resulted in a disproportionate number of the lowest paid workers in essential public sector employment being people of color and women. It is a moral imperative that as people of faith, we stand in solidarity with those that are working to dismantle oppressive economic practices for the common good of all.

“We believe that the economy must serve people (all people), not the other way around,” concluded Stanley. “This is why we stand firm in support of collective bargaining.”

After a brief rally and press conference outside City Hall, workers and their allies went inside and spoke at the City Council meeting. Among those addressing the city council meeting were Devon Conley of the city’s Department of Public Works, UE Eastern Region President George WaksmunskiLatasha Holloway of the Virginia Beach Coalition, Hannah “Mel” Borja of the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis and Rev. Carlos Howard of the United Front For Justice.

Latasha Holloway from the Virginia Beach Coalition, who recently successfully won a lawsuit against racially-gerrymandered city council at-large districts, addresses the rally.

Mayor Robert Dyer refused to address the workers directly, instead choosing to read out the rules of the meeting — including a note about speakers remaining “civil.”  Workers vowed to return to work to sign up their co-workers for the union, and to return soon to the City Council to keep the fight moving forward.

VB City Worker Union (UE) leaders meet with City Council members Berlucchi and Abbott

Meeting was positive, but time for action is now – SIGN THE UNION CARD TODAY!

VB City Worker Union (UE) leaders meet with City Council members Berlucchi and Abbott

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!


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

Know Your Rights Constitution w/ D’Angelo Fletcher (video)

Virginia Beach City Workers: Know Your Rights video, Part 1: Constitutional rights that protect your ability to unionize. This video, narrated by Highways/Stormwater worker, D’Angelo Fletcher, highlights how the US and the Virginia State Constitution protects your rights to organize and participate in a union.

Virginia Beach City Workers Deliver Petition & Speak at City Council, 11-17-2020 (video)

Virginia Beach city workers have been organizing for 3 months, since the work stoppage of Waste Management workers. Now a majority of workers in Public Works and Public Utilities, along with supporters in Parks & Rec, Human Services and the Libraries have signed a petition demanding a new wage structure, 10% hazard pay and fairness from management.

On Tuesday, November 17 over 50 city workers attended the city council meeting to deliver their petition to City Manager Patrick Duhaney, requesting a meeting with him to discuss their concerns. City workers speakers included Dwayne Arthur, Maintenance Worker, Public Works, Mosquito Control, Stanley “Butch” Nicholson, Utility Mechanic Aide, Public Utilities, Sewer Collection and Jason Smith, Custodial Worker 1, Public Works.