Union Station: Public-sector collective bargaining legal in Virginia as of May 1

Virginia to allow public-sector collective bargaining starting on May 1st

A change in Virginia law allowing for public-sector collective bargaining goes into effect May 1. In anticipation, the city of Alexandria adopted an ordinance allowing public-sector collective bargaining in the city on April 17.

About the law

The Virginia General Assembly approved legislation in March 2020 repealing Virginia’s prohibition of public-sector collective bargaining. The legislation allows local governments to bargain collectively with their employees upon adopting an authorizing ordinance or resolution. The final legislation was the product of a joint conference committee compromise between two competing bills: House Bill 582 and Senate Bill 939. Governor Ralph Northam (D) signed the bills on April 22, 2020. 

The amended text of Code of Virginia § 40.1-57.2 will now state, in part:

No state, county, city, town, or like governmental officer, agent, or governing body is vested with or possesses any authority to recognize any labor union or other employee association as a bargaining agent of any public officers or employees, or to collectively bargain or enter into any collective bargaining contract with any such union or association or its agents with respect to any matter relating to them or their employment or service unless, in the case of a county, city, or town, such authority is provided for or permitted by a local ordinance or by a resolution. 

In 1977, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled that existing public-sector collective bargaining agreements were invalid under state law. 

Virginia was one of three states banning all public-sector collective bargaining, along with North Carolina and South Carolina. Some states prohibit public-sector collective bargaining but make exceptions for police, firefighters, or teachers.

Democrats gained trifecta control of Virginia state government in 2019. 

Alexandria’s ordinance

On April 17, the Alexandria City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance allowing collective bargaining in the city, becoming the first city to do so in light of the upcoming change in state law.  

According to the city: 

The ordinance was developed with the intent to promote orderly and constructive relationships between the City and its employees and ensure an uninterrupted, efficient government. … The ordinance defines bargaining units as police; fire and emergency medical services; labor and trades; professional; and administrative and technical. A Labor Relations Administrator will be appointed as the neutral to effectively administer the requirements established by the ordinance.

In support of the ordinance, city council member Mo Seifeldein said, “I want to point out, as many members have said — and we had people from Arlington come and speak — the importance of what we’re doing in Alexandria, which really demonstrates and shows that despite our differences, when it comes down to it that Alexandria is not afraid to lead and be the first and set precedent not only for ourselves but … for the Commonwealth as a whole.”

Opposing the ordinance, National Right to Work Committee president Mark Mix said, “Alexandria’s decision to grant union bosses the power to force public educators, police officers, firefighters, and other public employees under their one-size-fits-all so-called ‘representation’ not only deprives individual workers of their basic right to select their own representation, but will also saddle Alexandria taxpayers with an even more oppressive tax burden than what they already deal with.”

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 93 pieces of legislation dealing with public-sector employee union policy. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking. 

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s) 

Recent legislative actions

Below is a complete list of relevant legislative actions taken since our last issue. 

  • Illinois HB2521: This bill would allow electronic signatures on petitions submitted for selecting an exclusive bargaining representative. It would allow certification elections to be conducted electronically. It would also prohibit an employer from promising or taking action against an employee for participating in a strike.
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Sen. Robert Peters (D) added as alternate co-sponsor April 28. 
  • Maine LD52: This bill would allow educational policies related to preparation and planning time and transfer of teachers to be subjects of collective bargaining negotiations.
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Education and Cultural Affairs Committee reported “ought to pass as amended” April 28.  
  • Maine LD97: This bill would bar public-sector and private-sector employers from requiring employees to join or pay dues to a union as a condition of employment.
    • Republican sponsorship. 
    • Died (placed in legislative files) April 28.  
  • Maine LD1402: This bill would remove the authority to require public employees who do not join a union to pay service fees to the union.
    • Republican sponsorship. 
    • Labor and Housing Committee vote April 26 (divided report). 
  • Oregon SB580: This bill would amend the law’s definition of “employment relations” to include class size and caseload limits as mandatory collective bargaining subjects for school districts.
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • First reading in the House, referred to speaker’s desk April 27.  
  • Tennessee HJR0072: A constitutional amendment that would bar any person, corporation, or governmental entity from denying employment due to an individual’s affiliation status with a union or other employee organization.
    • Republican sponsorship. 
    • House substituted SJR 2 April 26. 
  • Tennessee SJR0002: A constitutional amendment that would bar any person, corporation, or governmental entity from denying employment due to an individual’s affiliation status with a union or other employee organization.
    • Republican sponsorship.  
    • House concurred April 29. 
  • Washington SB5133: This bill amends the definition of a “confidential employee” for the purposes of collective bargaining.
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Delivered to governor April 26. 

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