FILE - Dick Saslaw, Virginia Senate Majority Leader

Dick Saslaw, Virginia Senate Majority Leader

A bill that would allow local governments to pass ordinances that permit public employees to engage in collective bargaining advanced out of a Virginia Senate committee, which did not hear public comments on the bill.

Collective bargaining rights allow a public-sector union to negotiate contracts for a group of workers, even if some of the workers are not part of the union. Virginia law prohibits collective bargaining for all public employees in the commonwealth without exception, but Senate Bill 939 would change that.

The bill's sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Springfield, told the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor this week that localities once were allowed to pass local ordinances that permitted collective bargaining, but the Virginia Supreme Court ruled it was illegal under the law.

“When I got elected in ‘76 … it was permitted, and what happened, I think, in the very first year, the Virginia Supreme Court said that without legislation from the General Assembly, they could not do this, and essentially that’s where it’s been until 2020,” Saslaw said.

The law’s language will maintain a de facto prohibition within all localities in the state unless a local ordinance explicitly grants this authority. Saslaw said many conservative parts of the state likely would keep this prohibition, but that localities in Northern Virginia likely would lift the prohibition in their jurisdiction.

Right-to-work organizations have criticized this legislation for granting unions the authority to negotiate contracts for workers who did not join the union and may not want the union to negotiate their contracts.

“The simple fact is under union monopoly bargaining, workers are forced to accept union representation, whether or not they want that representation in the first place,” Mark Mix, president of National Right to Work, said in a statement. “Just as Saslaw denied public input on the bill in favor of union boss rhetoric, monopoly bargaining denies public servants the right to choose their own representation and forces them to accept one-size-fits-all union boss representation.”

The Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor referred the legislation to the Finance and Appropriations committee on a 11-3 vote Tuesday. It incorporated SB 1022, which was sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Herndon. The committee also added an amendment to the legislation that prohibits localities from allowing constitutionally elected officials and their employees from engaging in collective bargaining.

This bill will not force any person to join a union or pay any fees to the union. It also maintains a prohibition on striking.

With Democratic control in the Legislature, lawmakers have introduced several bills that jeopardize Virginia's right-to-work protections, including bills that would eliminate right-to-work protections for private employees and bills that would maintain some of the protections, but would permit union-negotiated contracts that force non-union members to pay some fees to the union for the costs of representation.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and Tennessee for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.