Right now, Virginia’s public sector workers have an opportunity to secure basic labor rights for themselves and their communities. Key members of the General Assembly have advanced legislation that would repeal Virginia’s ban on public sector collective bargaining, a harmful and unnecessary burden placed on first responders, healthcare workers, educators, and others who work for the public good. Collective bargaining is a standard labor practice that allows unions to represent workers and negotiate the terms of employee contracts with their employers. Unfortunately, Virginia is one of only a few states in the country that refuses to grant public sector workers this right.
Currently, there is a considerable amount of misinformation floating around the Commonwealth regarding legislation that would repeal the ban on public sector collective bargaining. The facts below will help correct any misinformation and lay out why collective bargaining is a win for all Virginians, not just its public sector workers. Here are some common myths surrounding collective bargaining:
1. “Collective bargaining will bankrupt localities and the state.” Collective bargaining is centered on collaboration and compromise. Negotiated contracts are limited by the fiscal realities of each locality as well as the state. Giving workers the right to bargain for their contracts doesn’t give them the right to print money or write the budgets.
2. “Collective bargaining can’t happen because VA is a “Right to Work” state.” Collective bargaining and “right to work” are two independent and very different laws. “Right to Work” is a law that prohibits unions from collecting dues from nonmembers, an issue completely unrelated to negotiating contracts. Collective bargaining doesn’t legally compel anyone to join a union or pay dues of any kind. Further, Virginia’s “Right to Work” status cannot change in the public sector because of the US Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus ruling. Current legislation aimed at repealing “Right to Work” in VA only targets private-sector workers.
3. “Workers will go on strike if permitted to collectively bargain” The right to strike and the right to collective bargaining are two completely different laws. The collective bargaining legislation in the General Assembly for the 2020 session does not give public sector workers the right to strike. The right for Virginia’s public sector employees to strike is still prohibited by law. Most states that allow collective bargaining do not allow public sector employees to strike and yet those workers still benefit from collective bargaining agreements.
Virginia Educators United affirms that collective bargaining is a win, especially for our public schools. For school boards, educators, and most importantly, for students, collective bargaining is the positive change that can transform our schools for the better!
Benefits of collective bargaining for schools include…
Improved recruitment and retention of more well-trained and highly skilled educators.
Improved working conditions for all, and thus improved student learning conditions.
Allows school board members to walk away from the negotiation table with a clearer picture of day-to-day operations and the financial realities within their school districts.
Allows all parties to walk away with the confidence and reassurance that they collaborated on a contract that is satisfactory.
Returns respect and dignity to the education profession by restoring worker agency and voice. Collective bargaining brings all workers (not just teachers) into the decision-making process, a realm they have been mostly excluded from.
Brings democracy to the workplace.
In a profession dominated by women, collective bargaining is a women’s rights issue. Since women have been historically exploited collective bargaining helps empower women in the workplace.
Protect workers from burnout, exploitation, unsafe working conditions, and other forms of abuse.
Helps to create a working environment custom-tailored to the needs of each district. This affords communities the latitude to implement best practices that accommodate and respect a district’s unique cultural characteristics in order to best serve staff, students, and community. Thus, collective bargaining can help protect against racial, religious, gender, or class-based discrimination.
Collective bargaining also clarifies the duties and expectations of workers as well as the benefits they are entitled to, removing ambiguity and broadly improving efficiency and communication.
Restoring collective bargaining rights is a win for all public sector employees. Can you imagine Fire or EMS workers having the opportunity to negotiate contracts that better protect them from the hazards of their profession?
Can you imagine healthcare workers being able to bargain for contracts that create better working conditions for themselves, allowing them to focus solely on the quality of care they provide their patients?
We won’t have to imagine these things any longer if we return collective bargaining to Virginia’s public sector workers.