Lecturers and different public faculty workers in Richmond, Virginia, received a significant victory in December when the town’s faculty board, in an 8 to 1 vote, accredited a decision granting them collective bargaining rights.
The victory units a precedent for different districts and public sector workers all through the state. Richmond is the primary faculty district in Virginia to reinstate collective bargaining rights, after the legislature in 2020 lifted the state’s 43-year prohibition on collective bargaining for native authorities employees.
Members of the varsity board had made repeated makes an attempt to delay the vote. Successful took a mass mobilization led by the Richmond Training Affiliation, which convened district-wide employees’ assemblies, held rallies outdoors faculty board conferences, and shared dozens of instructor testimonies throughout public remark durations.
What lastly handed was a compromise decision stating that the union and the varsity district can every convey solely two bargaining points to the desk for the primary negotiated contract, which is able to final three years. Nonetheless, by overturning the sweeping ban on contract negotiations, this compromise opens the terrain to increase union energy in each faculty constructing.
Patchwork of Rights
Underneath the brand new state legislation, which took impact Might 1, 2021, every governing physique (corresponding to a college board) can vote to authorize collective bargaining rights for its workers, after which the union is permitted to carry an authorization vote among the many employees.
This implies there can be a patchwork of public sector bargaining rights all through the state. Virginia’s anti-union right-to-work legislation stays in impact; so does its draconian ban on public sector strikes. Bargaining remains to be banned for state workers.
Virginia banned negotiations with public sector unions in 1946 to interrupt the ability of Native 550 of the CIO-affiliated State, County, and Municipal Employees of America, the all-Black union on the College of Virginia hospital.
In 1971 a federal district court docket discovered this prohibition unconstitutional, and public sector unions have been approved to barter contracts. However in 1977, the state Supreme Courtroom reinstated the ban on bargaining for all public sector workers within the state, together with these employed by native entities like Richmond Public Faculties.
Authorization Card Drive
Though Richmond faculty workers didn’t have collective bargaining rights, they did have a union, the REA, with greater than 1,000 members and a community of store stewards.
After the brand new legislation handed in 2020, the union’s organizing committee led a grassroots marketing campaign faculty by faculty — mobilizing each members and non-members to signal authorization playing cards and demand the reinstatement of collective bargaining rights.
Since Virginia is a right-to-work state, non-members can signal authorization playing cards in assist of collective bargaining, however solely members will have the ability to take part in negotiations and supply enter on the contract.
The playing cards have been used to point out the varsity board how a lot assist there was for collective bargaining, and to construct momentum for an election to authorize the REA because the unique bargaining agent, which would be the subsequent step.
REA additionally constructed neighborhood assist by reaching out to oldsters and different unions, even holding committee conferences on the picket line of the Nabisco strike by Bakery Employees (BCGTM) Native 358.
These acts of solidarity paid off — members of Native 358 have been amongst those that joined the REA rally outdoors the December 6 faculty board assembly the place collective bargaining rights have been lastly granted.
Organized From Under
Members of the Richmond chapter of the Virginia Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators have been on the middle of the marketing campaign as organizing committee members, store stewards, and members of the REA govt board.
VCORE was based after the 2018-2019 strike wave. The founding members, crucial of their statewide union’s emphasis on lobbying, sought to remodel it right into a extra democratic and efficient combating group within the office. They have been impressed by the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators that had rebuilt Chicago Lecturers Union by organizing from the underside up.
VCORE has advocated for stronger relationships with different labor and neighborhood organizations, and for democratic participation and mass mobilization.
The caucus pushed the REA to reinvigorate its steward system. The union is coaching a brand new layer of worksite leaders to arrange its authorization card marketing campaign; these leaders will kind the premise of contract motion groups in future negotiations.
“Any veteran union organizer is aware of that the standard of the contract that the REA will win is contingent upon the power of its group within the office and willingness of its members to take motion,” stated Cole Oberman, a member of REA and VCORE.
VCORE members additionally advocated for the union to convene district-wide assemblies the place all classes of faculty district employees — not simply academics — may determine and analyze the problems they have been going through on the job and decide the way to reply.
To this point the REA has convened three of those assemblies, bringing collectively greater than 100 employees complete. For a lot of, this was their first time interacting with the union. They talked about staffing shortages, uncompensated working hours, class sizes, district-mandated curriculum, decrepit buildings, and bullying by administration.
No Simple Street Forward
The REA and its mum or dad VEA have confronted dogged opposition from employers and politicians, Democratic and Republican alike, they usually have a tough street forward.
It was a Democrat-controlled faculty board in Richmond that significantly delayed and tried to weaken the collective bargaining decision. Outgoing Democratic Governor Ralph Northam had delayed from 2020 to 2021 the implementation of the legislation reinstating collective bargaining rights.
The brand new Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin has introduced his intention to launch an all-out offensive in opposition to anti-racist schooling, public faculties, instructor autonomy, public well being, and the labor motion. He has established a tip line via which folks can report on educators who interact in “divisive practices.” Among the many regressive payments launched within the first few weeks of his administration is one trying to reinstate the ban on public sector collective bargaining rights.
In the meantime the Virginia College Boards Affiliation has taken a legislative stance in opposition to collective bargaining and continues to host anti-union trainings for native faculty boards.
It’s on this context that the REA should arrange a union authorization marketing campaign (it should win an election to grow to be the official bargaining unit consultant), after which lead contract negotiations.
Regardless of these challenges, the terrible working and studying situations present fertile floor for organizing. Virginia ranks fiftieth nationwide for instructor pay in comparison with different occupations, a latest examine discovered. In Richmond, instructional assist workers corresponding to educational assistants have spoken out in opposition to poverty wages.
And past the colleges, a latest examine from the Commonwealth Institute discovered that 80 % of Richmond public sector workers are unable to assist a household within the metropolis.
Employees in different municipalities are pushing for collective bargaining too. On December 7, firefighters and county employees in Loudoun County received a collective bargaining decision from their board of supervisors. On January 18, the newly fashioned Virginia Seaside Metropolis Employees Union, Electrical Employees (UE) Native 111, rallied outdoors a metropolis council assembly to push for collective bargaining rights.
“This victory has excited employees across the state who’ve lengthy felt disillusioned with the enterprise union mannequin,” stated elementary English as a Second Language instructor Noor Sami, a member of REA and VCORE. “Persons are starting to really feel like change is just not solely potential, however seemingly. Simply in my faculty alone, everyone seems to be wanting on the REA with new eyes and excited to see what comes subsequent.”