LAST YEAR, the General Assembly voted to allow counties, cities, towns and school divisions to pass local ordinances establishing collective bargaining rights for their teachers, first responders, sanitation workers and other municipal employees—a practice that has been forbidden in the commonwealth since 1977, and for good reason.
But state legislators expressly excluded public servants who work for the commonwealth. They don’t want to have to deal with never-ending negotiations and demands for more money and benefits from state employees. And that should be an object lesson to all local jurisdictions that are considering taking lawmakers up on their offer.
The new law, which takes effect on May 1, will allow union representatives to demand not only higher wages for their members in jurisdictions that are foolish enough to vote to allow collective bargaining, but also to dicker over staffing requirements, working conditions and benefits—including health insurance and pensions.
Organized labor’s main tool to force reluctant employers to give in to their demands is to shut down production by calling a strike. But the real employer of public workers is the public. And strikes by teachers, first responders and other municipal workers hurt the public, which is why they are banned.
Prince William Del. Elizabeth Guzman’s collective bargaining bill, which was narrowly passed by both chambers of the General Assembly, still prohibits any public employees from striking even if a local collective bargaining agreement is in place.
The Virginia Code is quite specific that any employee of a political subdivision who “strikes or willfully refuses to perform the duties of his employment … shall, by such action, be deemed to have terminated his employment and shall thereafter be ineligible for employment in any position or capacity during the next 12 months.”
However, like all laws, this one has to be enforced. Except when it isn’t, such as in Fairfax County, where unionized teachers refused to return to in-person learning last fall even after elected officials of the 10th largest school system in the nation ordered them to do so.
In the end, the Fairfax School Board backed down, not the teachers union. Nobody was fired for refusing to perform the duties of their employment.
This time it was for COVID, even though most educators agree that virtual learning has negatively affected low-income and special education students the most.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be other reasons for de facto strikes, especially if local employee unions and governing bodies are unable to agree on a number of employment-related issues.
It’s much easier for local officials to just give in to union demands and raise taxes to cover the extra costs incurred after a round of collective bargaining.
Few county supervisors, school board members or city council members are willing to risk the wrath of their employees by saying no. And with municipal elections now moved to November, local voters will have a harder time holding them accountable when so many other candidates are on the ballot.
Virginia parents, if you are fed up with your children not being in school full-time for over a year even though the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on Jan. 29, 2021, stated that there was “no documented transmission [of COVID-19] to or from staff members” in K-12 schools, just wait until collective bargaining kicks in.
Or save yourself the trouble by putting pressure on your local elected officials now, and demand they just say no to collective bargaining.