Virginia House of Delegates approves bill establishing collective bargaining rights for public-sector workers

On Feb. 6, the Virginia House of Delegates approved HB582, a bill establishing collective bargaining rights for public-sector workers at both the state and local levels. Nationwide, three states – Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina – currently prohibit collective bargaining on the part of public-sector workers.

What does the bill propose?
HB582 would make the following changes to the state’s public-sector labor laws:

  • Repeals the current prohibition against collective bargaining by public-sector workers.
  • Establishes the Public Employee Relations Board to designate bargaining units and provide for certification and decertification elections for unions.
  • Requires employers and unions certified as exclusive bargaining representatives “to meet at reasonable times to negotiate in good faith with respect to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.”
  • Repeals a 2013 law stipulating that, in certification and decertification elections, “the right of an individual employee to vote by secret ballot is a fundamental right that shall be guaranteed from infringement.”

How did the House vote, and what comes next?
The House voted 54-45 to approve HB582, with one member not voting. All but one Democrat, Del. Dawn Adams, voted in favor of the bill. All Republicans voted against it.

The bill now goes to the Virginia State Senate, where Democrats hold a 21-19 majority. If the Senate approves the bill, it will then go to Governor Ralph Northam (D) for his action.

What are the reactions?

  • Del. Elizabeth Guzman (D), the bill’s chief sponsor, said, “Workers in every locality in every corner of the commonwealth should have the freedom to collectively bargain. As one of only three states to ban public sector collective bargaining, Virginia is far behind the curve of history. It’s past time to give our teachers, firefighters, and other public service workers a voice so that they can advocate for the communities they serve.”
  • Jim Livingston, president of the Virginia Education Association (an affiliate of the National Education Association), said, “Students benefit when teachers and other school professionals have a voice to advocate for students and public schools. In other states with collective bargaining, educators and school districts have negotiated agreements that lowered class sizes, provided for extra resources for students, and addressed school health and safety issues. Collective bargaining is good for students, good for educators, good for schools, and good for Virginia communities.”
  • Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, opposed the bill, saying, “Under such a monopoly bargaining regime, individual workers are prohibited from even discussing basic workplace issues with their employer without triggering an unfair labor practice claim. And if that weren’t already bad enough, the bill would give union agents free reign to impose forced representation on workers through the coercive and abuse-prone ‘card check’ process where union organizers can bully or mislead workers into signing cards that are then used as ‘votes’ for unionization.”
  • Jacob Huebert, an attorney for the plaintiff in Janus v. AFSCME, said provisions of the bill would conflict with Janus: “The bill would give unions the exclusive responsibility to receive and maintain authorizations for union dues deductions from employees’ paychecks as well as employees’ requests to cancel or change their dues authorizations. … That is insufficient to comply with Janus’s affirmative consent requirement.”

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