RICHMOND, Va.—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and AFT local leaders issued the following statement after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam approved a historic bill overturning the state’s blanket ban on public sector collective bargaining, but inserted an unnecessary amendment delaying its implementation for a year.
The legislation—H.B. 582/S.B. 939—charts a new path for public sector workers in the commonwealth by allowing school boards and local governments to engage in collective bargaining with their employees.
However, citing uncertainties arising from the coronavirus pandemic, Northam exercised his authority to postpone the effective date of the legislation to May 2021. The General Assembly will have a chance to pass the amended bill with the delay when lawmakers reconvene on April 22. Some local governing boards, including the Fairfax County School Board and Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, endorsed collective bargaining bills during the regular legislative session.
AFT President Randi Weingarten said:
“Around the nation during COVID-19, frontline workers are helping to heal us, teach us, feed us and protect us—and they need a voice to ensure they have the conditions they need. That is what collective bargaining does. Many essential workers have that right, and it’s helped in this crisis. So, while today is a day to applaud the Legislature for changing the law to give that option to public employees in Virginia, we don’t believe the delay proposed by Gov. Northam is either necessary or prudent. Regardless, this bill remains a historic step toward ensuring all workers in the commonwealth have a voice at work and the right to negotiate for better working conditions.
“This legislation sets up a study in contrasts because so many public sector workers, including our colleagues in higher education, are not covered. To be clear, our mission will not be complete until all Virginia public employees have the right to join together and bargain for a better life for themselves and the communities they serve. Everyone must be entitled to that basic economic right.”
Norfolk Federation of Teachers President Thomas Calhoun said:
“This delay is totally unnecessary. By making collective bargaining a local option, the Legislature already built in substantial lead time before it could be implemented in any jurisdiction. So, I am disappointed the governor took this route.
“Enabling workers to negotiate with employers to improve working environments empowers teachers and others to become a voice for the students and families who make up our school communities. Managers and employees can meet at the bargaining table to find solutions.
“This is why having the right to collectively bargain is so critical. It is also why we will continue to fight to extend these rights to all public sector workers in the state. We will leave no one behind.”
Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Tina Williams said:
“We are pleased that this bill will give K-12 educators the ability to bargain for the resources our schools desperately need. The governor’s action may delay that outcome, but it will not stop our progress toward equity and fairness.
“We are especially pleased that the Fairfax County School Board has already voted in support of collective bargaining, meaning the board recognizes the importance of giving teachers a real voice on the job to help them serve students better.
“It is encouraging that the school board understands that when the people who are working every day with students have a seat at the bargaining table, everyone benefits because collaboration between employees and employers creates better schools and better communities.”