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County and municipal workers unionize

VEA Teacher
Virginia Education Association
A majority of Albemarle County teachers want to bargain collectively, but the school board refuses.

Until last year, Virginia was one of just three states that banned collective bargaining, but now it’s possible for public sector employees if local governments agree.

“There have been collective organizing ordinances passed in Loudon County, Fairfax County, Arlington and Alexandria,” says Emily Yen with the Democratic Socialists of America, a group that had hoped to see teachers bargain collectively in Albemarle County. She argues that would help the district attract and retain the best people.

“When you have teachers who stay on the job for decades, who go the extra mile for their students and have the ability to do that, instead of having to drive for Uber after school, that is a win/win situation.”

But the county voted not to recognize the Albemarle Education Association.

“The majority of their members sign cards, and asked the school board to agree to collective bargaining.” Yen recalls. “They said no.”

Richmond, on the other hand, was the first school district to approve collective bargaining

Firefighters have been asking to negotiate with Charlottesville for months, and public bus drivers also want recognition.

“A lot of folks can’t afford to live in the community they serve, which is just sad,” says John Ertl with the Amalgamated Transit Union. “Many of these folks work long shifts, and at the end of the day they also have to commute somewhere else. Many of them have to work second and even third jobs.”

City council refused, but Ertl says it’s doing its homework now.

“We understand that city council has set a goal of having an ordinance done by this summer, and at that point negotiations will start, and we’ll be off to the races.”

His union already represents drivers in Lynchburg, Roanoke, Richmond, Hampton Roads and D.C. Bus drivers are in demand, and Ertl argues having a union that can negotiate better wages and conditions should help communities attract the best of them.