Opponents of two bills that would grant collective bargaining rights to public sector unions in Virginia are warning the legislation could harm school funds and the autonomy of teachers.
Collective bargaining rights allow a union to have exclusive representation while negotiating contracts for all workers in a specific working unit, even if that worker is not a union member or does not want that representation. Many local governments have predicted collective bargaining would cost them millions of dollars because of bureaucracy, legal costs, office space and additional contract requirements for public-sector workers.
Senate Bill 939, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, would permit local governments to pass ordinances that allow collective bargaining. It passed the Senate, 21-19, and was assigned Tuesday to the House Committee on Labor and Commerce. House Bill 582, sponsored by Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Dale City, would allow collective bargaining statewide.
Chris Braunlich, the president of the free-market Thomas Jefferson Institute, said in a news release that these bills would affect classroom learning and restrict teachers.
“Collective bargaining agreements don't just govern teacher pay,” Braunlich said. “They frequently determine length of the school day, the school calendar, class size and after-school hours. If it isn't in the contract, a teacher or supervisor can't do it. … Those contracts also set the terms for salary increases and discipline, limiting the ability to reward quality teaching ... or remove ineffective teachers.”
Braunlich cited a Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy analysis that found collective bargaining for public schools in Rhode Island led to lower student performance, partially because it became more difficult to fire bad teachers.
Stacy Haney, the chief lobbyist for the Virginia School Board Association, told The Center Square in an email the legislation could negatively impact a school’s access to resources.
“We are particularly concerned the collective bargaining will drive up costs and divert resources away from classrooms to be spent instead on lawyers and arbitrations and protracted bargaining,” Haney said. “We are also concerned that collective bargaining will have an adverse effect on student performance and that it can also be used to protect ineffective teachers.”
Haney said collective bargaining is not the best way to provide teachers with a better salary because it would force additional costs on localities that cannot afford it. Rather, she said that the General Assembly should increase teacher salaries through more state funding.
Neither Guzman nor Saslaw responded to requests for comment from The Center Square. The Virginia Education Association, which is a union that backs collective bargaining, also did not respond to requests for comment.