What Collective Bargaining Would Mean For Virginia’s Public Sector Employees

By Matt Blair

February 27, 2020

The Commonwealth is one of only three states that don’t allow collective bargaining for public sector employees.

Public sector employees in Virginia could soon gain collective bargaining rights. In a move that would affect teachers, firefighters and police officers, legislation granting public sector employees expanded bargaining rights has passed the House and is under consideration in the Senate. 

Virginia is one of only a few states that doesn’t allow collective bargaining for public sector employees. North Carolina and South Carolina are the two other states with a similar ban in place.

Advocates say that passing the legislation would grant them more power. They argue that collective bargaining will help them advocate for higher pay, increase job retention, and assist them in assuring safer work environments.

John Delaney, the dean of the Kogod School of Business at American University, told the New York Times that granting public sector employees the right to collective bargaining leads to improved working conditions.

“The research shows that workers who are covered by collective bargaining do tend to earn higher salaries and they tend to get greater benefits than similar workers not covered,” Delaney said.

The original bill would have granted unions the right to represent workers throughout the state, without requiring local input. A few Senate Democrats have voiced concern over the House version of the bill, however, and a narrower piece of legislation was put into place. Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said that granting localities the authority to opt-in was necessary in order to pass the Senate, and said he wouldn’t support the House’s version of the bill. 

Notably, both versions of the bills keep Virginia’s existing ban on strikes by public sector employees in place.

Republicans still opposed even the modified version, saying it is nothing but a money grab by unions in an attempt to impact elections. Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) said he has seen “millions and millions” of public employee union dues spent in political races in the state and passing the law would only exacerbate the problem.

Ultimately, the Senate Committee on Labor and Commerce Committee advanced the narrower version by a vote of 12-3. It has now been sent over to the Senate Committee on Finance and Appropriations.

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