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Virginia Set to Restore Collective Bargaining Rights

Thirty years ago public employees lost the right to bargain and have suffered since

Brian Young's picture
Feb 24, 2020

Since the 1990’s teachers and other public employees in Virginia have not had the right to collectively bargain for a contract. With a new Democratic majority in both the House of Delegates and the State Senate, along with a Democratic Governor, this ban is set to be overturned.

The bill, which has passed the House of Delegates, is expected to sail through the Democratically controlled State Senate. Even opponents of the bill told the Washington Post that the bill is expected to pass within the next few weeks.

Virginia is one of just three states that completely forbids public employees from bargaining. It was also one of the first states to become Right to Work. This means that the Old Dominion is often held up, along with the Carolinas, as an example for union-busters. However, with the new Democratic majority that took over in January labor issues have been at the forefront of legislation. As UCOMM previously reported, unions in the state made a push to repeal Right to Work, but the Governor and some more conservative, business-friendly Democrats balked at the idea. Instead, it seems that they compromised on getting this repeal done first and pushing off a Right to Work repeal until next year.

Teacher’s unions have been pushing hard for this change. While Virginia is ranked seventh in school quality, they are ranked 32nd in teacher pay. According to the National Education Association, teachers in Virginia make about $10,000 less than the national average.

“In states across the country where school employees bargain their contracts,” says VEA President Jim Livingston, “topics across the board are addressed. we’ve seen improvements in class sizes, resources available for students, and safety issues all made possible through negotiation.”

In an editorial calling for the passage of the bill, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said “Workers in the South were barred from bargaining collectively for the same reason that enslaved people were barred from learning how to read. Because people in power know there is power in numbers.”

The bill will now head to the Senate where it is expected to pass and then to Governor Ralph Northam. It is unclear whether Northam will sign the bill. When asked about his support for the bill, a spokesperson told the Washington Post that he would “carefully review this legislation if and when it reaches his desk and added that the governor “is focused on ensuring that all Virginians have access to a well-paid, safe and sustainable job.”

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