Opinion: Commentary: Collective Bargaining: A Step to ‘One Fairfax’

At age 20, I took on a job as a grocery-bagger. I balanced my work alongside my full-time college studies, caring for my father who was dying of cancer, while living with an abusive boyfriend, sadly my first serious relationship. Amidst all of the chaos and trauma associated with this period of my life, my job provided an outlet, a sense of stability, and gave me agency. This was because I had the protection of a union and the right to collectively bargain alongside my colleagues.

Although my career has since spanned a number of jobs across public and private sectors, it was this role at the grocery store that taught me early on the importance of listening to workers – and especially the voices of women. Women are the most marginalized of the marginalized. While we’re over half the population, over a third of American women are heads of households with children, living in poverty. As a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault, and life-long fighter for women’s rights, I know that there is a link between the lack of equality for women in the workplace and the violence perpetrated against us. Safe working conditions, fair pay, and strong benefits have cascading effects that extend far beyond the workplace.

I’m writing as an equality advocate and active Fairfax County community member in full support of collective bargaining for Fairfax County employees. I am urging the Board of Supervisors to pass an ordinance that empowers our essential workforce. This ordinance must give workers a real say in their wages, benefits, and working conditions. It should not create barriers for organizing. It should not create a two-class system by excluding so-called “non-merit” workers, like School Aged Child Care (SACC) providers who are majority women and make up an essential workforce caring for the future of Fairfax. Passing a meaningful and inclusive collective bargaining ordinance is a necessity if we want a Fairfax that supports women, people of color, people with disabilities, other marginalized communities, and all working families.

THE FIGHT FOR EQUITY is a global battle, but I’m a firm believer that all politics is local. I’m choosing to be an ally in this push for collective bargaining for county employees because I want to change future outcomes for women and the next generation here in Fairfax. We need to create conditions for women to be successful and to be lifted from poverty. Many county workers are mothers and care-providers, doing it all, and we need to make sure they have what they need to thrive.

As an Economic Policy Institute study noted, a “promising way to address both gender-specific disparities and the broken link between all typical workers’ pay and economy-wide productivity growth is through the resuscitation of collective bargaining.” Providing better working conditions is a smart investment of taxpayer dollars that strengthens the social fabric of Fairfax. We can avoid the huge costs associated with high rates of attrition, retraining, and wellness issues. If we invest on the front end, we will not only get more productivity on the back end, our families and our communities will prosper.

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING is inextricably tied to the fight for an equitable and compassionate “One Fairfax.” To not provide meaningful and inclusive collective bargaining to our county workforce would be the antithesis of a “One Fairfax.” Elected leaders should be strong champions for workers and legislate accordingly. Community members should rally behind the very workers that take care of us. We need to make the Commonwealth’s counties number one for workers and not just businesses. We can start here.

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