Hours after the Prince William School Board passed collective bargaining rights for county school workers, the Prince William Education Association announced it would hold union elections for thousands of school workers starting January 3.
Under the collective bargaining resolution passed last week, any union wishing to become the exclusive representative of one of the school system’s two bargaining units must have an expression of interest of 30% of the bargaining unit, then give the school division human representative notice from the resource office at least 45 days in advance.
Using signatures PWEA submitted in the spring to show interest, the union is heading for an election in January in hopes of becoming the exclusive bargaining representative for state-licensed employees in the school system. , which includes more than 7,000 teachers, nurses, counselors, athletic trainers, technology coaches, psychologists, social workers, speech pathologists and department directors.
“For the first time in history, educators in Prince William County schools have won a collective bargaining resolution. This is a historic achievement for all educators in Prince William County. Although we must continue to work to strengthen the process, educators recognize and celebrate this achievement,” the PWEA said in a statement. “The leadership of the Prince William Education Association publicly announces that we are providing PWCS with our 45 days notice for a union election commencing January 3, 2023.”
According to the bargaining resolution, an agreed third party will hold union elections by secret ballot over several days and in several locations. Voting by mail or in person is permitted under the resolution, but for the election results to count, at least half of all employees in the bargaining unit must participate in the election, a provision that PWEA members criticized at school on October 19. Board meeting.
Maggie Hansford, president of the education association, called the election process “unfair” last week and said school board members themselves did not need half their electorate to vote. present for their elections to be valid. She put out a call for nominations for new school board candidates for next year’s election.
In a post retweeted by the PWEA, SEIU Virginia 512 President David Broder called the resolution “union busting” and “contempt for teachers.”
“Absolutely shameful,” he said.
But school board members said the provision was intended to ensure that a cross-section of employees actually wanted to be represented by the union. Otherwise, said Occoquan school board member Lillie Jessie, an election in which a few hundred people vote could end up impacting thousands of employees.
“When you talk about having a seat at the table, I think you have to think about other teachers having seats at your table…I don’t know why you’re worried about that,” said Jesse last week. “I can’t stand a few people making decisions for everyone.”
Potomac District Board Member Justin Wilk, one of the strongest supporters of bargaining efforts over the past year, told InsideNoVa he would be willing to “work” on the mandate. 50% threshold in the future and that every school should be allowed as a voting site for elections.
But he also said Hansford told the school board that PWEA had the support of more than 5,000 employees when the union submitted signatures to show interest in the spring.
“Here’s the thing, PWEA has, allegedly, 5,000… [supporters] move forward with collective bargaining in their cards. For me, it’s a no-brainer, they should be able to cross the 50% threshold easily,” Wilk said.
According to PWEA lawyer Broderick Dunn, the PWEA’s decision for the elections would only cover the authorized bargaining unit. The resolution passed last week also created a separate bargaining unit for other employees such as food service workers, maintenance staff, bus drivers and others, but a union should show interest in this group to finally organize union elections for the right to represent them.
Hansford did not respond to multiple requests for comment on whether the PWEA plans to represent unlicensed employees, some of whom pay PWEA dues.
“If that’s who PWEA wants to start with, as long as all of their dues-paying members are represented,” Wilk said. “Maybe this is just the start.”
The school board’s vote to enshrine the right to collective bargaining for school system employees culminated in a years-long effort among school employees and union leaders across the state and county for true representation. union and collectively negotiated school employee contracts.
In 2020, the Democratic-controlled Virginia General Assembly lifted the ban on public sector collective bargaining in the Commonwealth that had been in place since the 1970s, although it left local governing bodies and councils schools the discretion whether or not to allow collective bargaining among their employees. .
Months after the General Assembly Act came into force last year, PWEA members began collecting signatures. In the spring of 2022, the union submitted cards of more than 30 percent of the school system’s state-certified nonadministrative employees calling for a yes-or-no vote on bargaining from the school board.
County teachers said negotiating higher salaries and a better work environment will be necessary to keep the school system competitive in recruitment and retention, especially as the growing shortage of teachers continues to have an impact on public schools in the region and beyond. Teachers in Prince William County schools received an average raise of 7% in the fiscal year 2023 budget, but their salaries remain among the lowest in the region.
At the same time, many teachers say the burden of post-pandemic learning loss, increased mandates for standardized testing, and demands for professional development time over which they have little say have made the job less attractive.
“The past two years have been difficult for everyone…. Our educators who have taken the course have proven their loyalty, dedication and commitment not only to their profession, but most importantly to the students,” said Amy McCarthy, PWEA building representative, during the school board meeting of the week. last. “Do you trust and appreciate your employees? Do you really trust and like us enough to be part of the negotiations? »
With the October 19 vote, school workers in Prince William County are joining workers at Arlington and Richmond Public Schools in seeking the right to directly negotiate contracts with their school boards. The Prince William County government is still negotiating on a bargaining resolution for county employees.