Senate Democrats in the Commerce and Labor Committee blocked a bill Monday that aimed to reverse legislation giving public employees the right to collective bargaining as Richmonders push for the right at the local level.
Public workers gained the right to collective bargaining, which allows them to negotiate compensation and work conditions after SB 939 introduced by Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, and HB 582 introduced Del. Elizabeth Guzmán, D-Prince William, passed in 2020. Since Democrats lost control of the House and governorship, Republicans have introduced legislation to repeal the right in the current legislative session.
Ending collective bargaining is one of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s priorities. Del. Kathy Byron, R-Forest, introduced the bill killed on Monday that was only the most recent attempt by Republicans to repeal labor protections. Originally, Byron’s proposal passed the House of Delegates on Feb. 15.
In January, Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, introduced a bill to repeal collective bargaining for public employees that Democrats on the Commerce and Labor Committee blocked. Obenshain said that collective bargaining had resulted in administrative costs that had run into the millions for localities that opted into it, according to the Associated Press.
In addition to Byron’s bill, HB 336 and HB 337 introduced by Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, require a 51% vote by public employees in a bargaining unit to certify a representative in localities that permitted collective bargaining and stop agreements from having a public employer give compensation or leave time for union activities, respectively.
Republicans also proposed HB 790 that passed through the House, which would ban localities from collective bargaining agreements with law enforcement if they do not meet certain standards.
Guzmán said she would expect bills filed by Republicans to repeal democratic priorities to continue to be blocked by the Senate.
“I am positive that the Senate will block these efforts,” Guzmán said.
Although the General Assembly gave public employees the right to collective bargaining, each locality must pass ordinances to allow employees to engage in the process.
"[Collective bargaining] is not something that people and localities in Virginia are not interested in doing,” Guzmán said. “Actually, they recognize that Virginia became the 49th state in the country to do that, and it’s the new norm [to give public employees a seat at the table].”
Since the General Assembly passed the right to collective bargaining, localities across the state, such as Fairfax County and Arlington County, have passed ordinances. After the Richmond School Board passed collective bargaining for the division in December, teachers in the division were allowed to start negotiating.
Richmond City public employees have called for better compensation and working conditions over the past year. After months of building momentum, two ordinances concerning collective bargaining were discussed at city council meetings over the past few weeks.
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One ordinance proposed by Mayor Levar Stoney only allowed employees in the Department of Public Works and the Department of Public Utilities to participate in collective bargaining.
The other bill, sponsored by Councilwoman Reva Trammell, included more city employees but had separate bargaining units for different kinds of employees. Her bill has raised questions about police unionization and some city employees not being as prioritized as others, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
At the Feb. 7 meeting, city council members decided to delay deliberation on the ordinances until March. Public employees who spoke at the meeting repeatedly mentioned wanting a seat at the table, according to Richmond Free Press.
Summer Bowling, who works at the Broad Rock Branch of the Richmond Public Library, said she supported collective bargaining because it would make the City of Richmond an even better place to live and thought it was important to support city workers.
Bowling said collective bargaining would help bring better communication and transparency for city workers. After Bowling moved to Richmond to work at the library almost a year ago, she signed up for health insurance through a form that was sent through interoffice mail. Soon after, she twisted her ankle, passed out and had to go to the hospital. She still had not received her insurance card and nobody knew where the paperwork went after she sent it to the city, she said.
The fees would have been over $6,000 for four hours in the hospital, Bowling said.
“Fear struck in my heart — what if they hadn’t been able to backdate it?” she said.
The proposed ordinances in the city council are in the right direction, but one bargaining unit instead of putting different city workers in separate units is better, Bowling said.
Four in five full-time, year-round city employees do not make enough to take care of a family, according to a recent report by The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, a local think tank. Guzmán cited this report as one of her reasons for supporting local efforts for collective bargaining
The report also pointed out pay disparities in Richmond: Out of the 60% of city workers who are Black, only 14% are making enough to provide for a household with two kids.
“The reality is that the minimum wage workers are disproportionately minorities,” Guzmán said.
Obenshain and Del. Kathy Byron did not respond to The Collegian’s requests for comment.
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