Jennifer McClellan column: Richmond city workers are the lifeblood of our community. They deserve a voice on the job.

By Jennifer McClellan
Two years ago this month, the Virginia General Assembly removed the 44-year ban on public sector workers’ ability to collectively bargain. At the time, Virginia was one of only three states preventing all public employees from this basic right.

I was proud to be chief co-patron of a bill that was incorporated into this law in the Virginia Senate with Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, to ensure that public workers have a seat at the table to negotiate the compensation and benefits they deserve.

In under two years, we’ve seen major momentum on collective bargaining across the commonwealth: The city of Alexandria, and Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties have passed collective bargaining ordinances. In December, the Richmond School Board made Richmond the first Virginia locality to give teachers collective bargaining rights.

This month, Richmond City Council has an opportunity to keep this momentum going by passing an ordinance granting city employees collective bargaining rights. Two years after our legislation opened the door for collective bargaining, it’s time for Richmond to join other localities in passing an ordinance that will transform our city for the better.

All city of Richmond workers — including full-time and part-time employees across departments — need the ability to come together across the table with our city leaders to improve working conditions. General city workers — from the department of public works to libraries to social services to parks and recreation — should be able to come together in one bargaining unit to advocate for great jobs and public services.

By dismantling the barriers that inhibit our city workers from forming their unions, we will improve services, inspire efficiency and attract the next generation of workers, while retaining the great ones we have right now.

Support for collective bargaining is strong across the state. Recent polling from the Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Christopher Newport University shows 68% of Virginia voters believe public employees should have the right to join together and negotiate for improved wages, benefits and working conditions.

We should do this for workers like Sonia Easter, who has worked for the city of Richmond for more than 25 years. In her current role, Sonia works directly with the public, supporting young people and their families to address early-stage issues that help them avoid the prison system. It is essential work that experts say directly diverts our city youth from the school-to-prison pipeline.

We want workers like Sonia to choose public service and stay in these important positions. However, we risk losing them in a competitive job market if they cannot negotiate fair wages, health care, scheduling, workplace safety and time off.

Richmond can help secure a long-term workforce, and make sure its employees can afford to live in the city as well. This is an investment not just in our workers, but in our city’s long-term growth.

It’s what’s best for Richmond; it’s what’s best for all of us. Let’s get it done.