Virginia’s public service employees reserved their seat at the table.
RICHMOND—Collective bargaining for public service employees will continue in Virginia.
On Feb. 21, the Virginia Senate Commerce and Labor Committee voted down House Bill (HB) 883. It was first introduced by Republican Del. Kathy Byron, and the bill sought to remove the authority for a locality—by a local ordinance or resolution—to recognize any labor union or employee association as a bargaining agent of any public officers or employees. It also would’ve prohibited collective bargaining and entering into any collective bargaining contract with a union, association, or agents.
The opportunity for collective bargaining was a long time coming for some Virginia employees. Collective bargaining legislation introduced by Democrats Del. Elizabeth Guzman and Sen. Richard “Dick” Saslaw passed in 2020—an option stripped away in 1977 when courts determined that the state law didn’t explicitly permit localities to undertake that action.
The Power of Collective Bargaining
Thanks to the new laws, employees like Darrell Turner, a preschool teacher at Blackwell Preschool Center and vice president of the Richmond Education Association, had an opportunity to negotiate needs. He joined other Virginians from various walks of life—firefighting, human services, and construction—as part of a press conference on Feb. 17 where participants asked the state Senate to stop the bill’s progression.
“When educators and school divisions negotiate contracts, it results in better schools and that’s better for our students, our families, and our community,” Turner said.
The teacher expressed that collective bargaining allows educators to provide students with what they need most, including better learning conditions, better staffing, better technology, better supplies, and smaller class sizes.
Tammie Wondong-Ware, a Fairfax County employee and president of the Fairfax Chapter of SEIU Virginia 512, said that she and her colleagues have provided childcare, transportation, sanitation, mental health services, and more throughout the pandemic. However, years without raises and a lack of rights on the job made caring for their own families difficult as they continued to serve their community. That all started to change last year.
“Fairfax County passed a meaningful collective bargaining [ordinance] last fall,” Wondong-Ware said. “I personally put a lot of time into working with the county to get this done because I know collective bargaining is a powerful tool to ensure good union jobs and quality services for all people.”
Progressing Toward Collective Bargaining
In addition to HB 883, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee also nixed collective bargaining-based bills HB 336, HB 337, and HB 341, all introduced by Republican Del. Nicholas Freitas.
HB 336 called for an elected bargaining representative for each collective bargaining unit.
HB 337 aimed to stop employers of those who could practice collective bargaining from entering into an agreement to compensate the employee or a third party for an employee organization’s or union’s activities. Also, if a union’s activities infringed on an employer’s time and resources, the union would’ve been responsible to compensate the employer at a fair market value rate.
HB 341 would’ve required employees that could engage in collective bargaining to consent before an employer deducted union or employee association dues from their pay. The bill would’ve allowed public employees to stop paying union or employee association dues at any time and would’ve provided an annual opportunity to reconfirm the continuation of union or employee association membership and dues.
Since collective bargaining became an option, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Arlington County, the City of Alexandria, and the Richmond School Board have already passed measures to give their workers a seat at the table. Other localities including Prince William County, Norfolk, and Albemarle County are also taking collective bargaining into consideration.
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