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April 5, 2022

Nine out of 10 Prince William County Employees Are Paid Too Little to Reasonably Support a Family with Two Children; Collective Bargaining Would Reduce Pay Disparities and Address History of Significant Turnover

Prince William County, VA — Working people and advocates held a press conference today announcing the release of a new report by The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis (TCI) that shows that Prince William County employees have historically been paid too little to achieve economic security for themselves and their families. In the coming weeks, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors will be discussing collective bargaining for county employees.

The new report builds on recent TCI analysis of five other Virginia localities and provides insight into current pay for Prince William County employees, typical total compensation for local government employees in Virginia compared to their private-sector peers, the high cost of employee turnover to the county, and how collective bargaining helps close pay disparities. 

“Low pay, little voice on the job, and resulting high turnover rates harm Virginia families, communities, and public workers,” says Mel Borja, a policy analyst at TCI and one of the report’s authors. “Prince William County is one of the fastest-growing and most diverse communities in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is grappling with the opportunities, changes, and challenges caused by its impressive population growth over the last decade. Collective bargaining has been shown to increase wages, better working conditions, improve public services, and foster democratic participation. Prince William County public employees must be afforded the ability to bargain collectively so that the county can ensure a prosperous and equitable future for all.”

The report includes a new analysis of Prince William County employee salaries compared to the cost of living in the county. Key new findings include:

  • One in three county employees cannot afford to support themselves on their salary in Prince William County, and nine out of 10 cannot attain an adequate standard of living on what they are paid if they have two children.
  • A majority of general employees in Prince William are women, and people of color are more likely to be in lower-paid general positions than in other county government positions.
  • The turnover rate for Prince William County employees has been high for nearly a decade. Data analysis from the county budgets from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2022 (fiscal years 2015 to 2022) shows an average turnover without retirement rate of 8.5% and an average turnover with retirement rate of 11% for county employees.

“You don’t come into this field thinking that you are going to make a ton of money. You think about how you are going to serve a group of people that has been maligned and dismissed by the general public. We fight ableism every day,” said Kerensa Green-Sumers, a clinical services caseworker in the Developmental Disability Intellectual Disability Services Department of the Prince William County Community Services Board. Green-Sumers provides support coordination for people who have developmental and intellectual disabilities and has been an employee of the county since 2014. She spoke on her behalf and not on behalf of the county or her department. “We can’t do that if we don’t have the resources we need to do so. We need staff. We need to be able to have things like scanners. We need to be able to  have our voices heard when we are asking for different positions, or more staffing, or to not be so overloaded with caseloads that we can’t get to everybody. We want to help everybody, but there aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all. That’s why collective bargaining is so important to us. It will allow our voices to be amplified so that we can amplify the voices of the people we serve.”

In addition to the new findings, the report includes key findings from other recent research:

  • Local government public employees in Virginia are typically paid 29.9% less than their private-sector peers with similar levels of education, age, and hours worked — one of the largest pay penalties in the country. Although data is limited, it appears that the penalty is even larger in Northern Virginia, with local government employees being paid 33.4% less than their private-sector peers (Economic Policy Institute, June 2021).
  • Public-sector collective bargaining tends to reduce (while not fully eliminating) the pay penalty for public employees compared to their private-sector peers, boosting pay by 5-8% (Brunner and Ju, ILR Review, March 2019).
  • The fair and clear standards provided by unionization particularly help Black and Latino workers (Economic Policy Institute, August 2020). Women, who make up the majority of local government workers (especially in Virginia), would also benefit from collective bargaining (Economic Policy Institute, June 2021).

“Addressing the public-sector pay gap is also a racial and gender justice imperative. Low pay for public-sector workers disproportionately affects Black workers and women, who are more likely to be employed in local government jobs. Because women and workers of color are also disadvantaged in the broader labor market because of racial or gender discrimination, strengthening collective bargaining rights for local government workers should reduce inequality in the labor force and potentially attract more Hispanic, Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI), and other underrepresented workers to public-sector jobs,” said Jennifer Sherer, Senior State Policy Coordinator at the Economic Policy Institute.

A livestream recording of the press conference can be found here.

Click here to read the full report — “Coming Together in Prince William: Collective Bargaining Advances Equity and Strengthens Families.”

The June 2021 Economic Policy Institute report can be found here.

The Commonwealth Institute

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