RICHMOND, Va.—AFT President Randi Weingarten, Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Tina Williams and Norfolk Federation of Teachers President Thomas Calhoun issued the following statements upon House passage of H.B. 582, a bill to allow state and local government employees—such as teachers, nurses and firefighters—to engage in collective bargaining to negotiate better working conditions. Virginia is one of only three states, along with North Carolina and South Carolina, that prohibit collective bargaining for public service workers.
The bill needs to go to the Virginia Senate and then the governor.
“Today is historic. Public employees across the commonwealth will finally have a voice at work, and the ability to come together and bargain collectively for the things that actually make a difference in their lives and the lives of the people they serve.
“Collective bargaining is about more than just joining a union; it enables teachers to advocate for adequate staffing so their students get the resources they need to learn; it allows nurses to come together for overtime protections so their patients are safe under their care; and it gives public employees the ability to negotiate rules for safer workspaces. When the people who are closest to delivering services to the public have a seat at the bargaining table, the entire community benefits.
“Our union of 1.7 million educators, nurses, healthcare professionals and public employees is proud this legislation does that without leaving anyone behind.
“We applaud Delegates Elizabeth Guzman and Jeion Ward for recognizing how important this bill is to improving lives of working people across the Commonwealth of Virginia. Their work on this bill makes clear that when we elect lawmakers who share our values, we get policy that actually makes a difference in people’s lives.”
Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Tina Williams:
“This bill would give us the ability to bargain collectively for the critical resources our schools need, which often aren’t covered in our state budget. As we celebrate Black History Month, the timing of these discussions is particularly important when we think about Martin Luther King Jr.'s role with sanitation workers. This bill is a huge step toward dismantling the legacy of Jim Crow laws, which has hamstrung workers in our state and has limited their ability to speak for themselves. With this crucial step, we now look to the state Senate to pass similar legislation that will grant workers a clear system to join a union if they choose.”
Norfolk Federation of Teachers President Thomas Calhoun:
“For teachers, collective bargaining means being able to negotiate for smaller class sizes, more staff to help special needs students, and up-to-date school buildings with working heat and pipes that don’t leak. Essentially, this bill would provide us a direct path to advocate for our students’ well-being and, in turn, the well-being of our Virginia families and the communities where they live and work.”