The leadership team of the Prince William Education Association announced Friday that they have achieved the votes necessary to become the first collective bargaining agent for Prince William County School employees as they enter negotiations with the school board this budgeting season.
This also makes them the representatives of the largest public collective bargaining unit in Virginia.
“The Prince William County [PWEA] leadership team is proud to announce that we have won both representative elections and will be the exclusive bargaining agent for both certified and classified employee groups,” said PWEA President Maggie Hansford. “We are proud to have earned the trust of our colleagues and to build strong bargaining teams made up of educators and school staff to negotiate the fair contracts that all school employees deserve.”
For years PWEA leadership has spoken at school board meetings on behalf of students, but was the school board and school division listening? The school board is elected to serve the public and the parents. This left educators often feeling they did not really have a “seat at the table,” even as Prince William County Schools is the largest employer in the county.
In most other states teachers' unions protect not only individual teachers but collectively bargain for salary, pay, and well-being. On Friday, PWEA leadership seemed elated to meet this challenge and delivered it to their members and other PWCS employees.
PWEA leadership promises to represent educators who will now have an actual seat at the table when negotiating salary, benefits, and other issues that matter to teachers.
“Our members deserve a livable wage, competitive benefits, adequate resources in your classroom and workspace, the ability to plan for retirement, and most of all, they deserve to have a voice in the decisions that are made regarding their profession. We all deserve to be heard, valued, and respected, and with this win, we will be,” Hansford said.
She expects the changes to be noticeable.
“Thank you to every educator and staff member for taking the time to vote. You have used your voice and PWCS heard you loud and clear. Your efforts paid off and will bring about meaningful change in our working conditions for many years to come,” said Hansford.
Collective bargaining by public employees was prohibited in Virginia since 1977 when the Supreme Court ruled was not a federal right but could be left to the states. Virginia then became a “right to work state,” under the belief that the market should set wages, not unions.
In 2019, Virginia had a Democratic governor and control of Virginia’s General Assembly, which provided the opportunity to pass new legislation on collective bargaining. At that time, Virginia was only one of three U.S. states, along with North Carolina and South Carolina, that prohibited public sector workers from unionizing.
But educators argued collective bargaining would be a win for students and parents as well.
In 2020, Jim Livingston, President of the Virginia Education Association and a former PWEA President said of teachers' unions. “People need to think of this in very, very simple terms- that collective bargaining is a common good for the kids of the commonwealth.”
During the 2020 session of the Virginia General Assembly, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 939/ House Bill 582 which permits local governments to enter into collective bargaining agreements with their employees. Due to the pandemic, the law was not enacted until May 1, 2021, and then many school boards did not immediately take up the issue as it was still dealing with issues in relation to Covid.
Virginia School Board defines collective bargaining broadly as “a mutual good faith obligation to negotiate with the intention of reaching an agreement between the school board and the exclusive bargaining unit representative.”
Virginia School boards retain their responsibilities to govern the school regulations and policies, set budgets, and hire and fire employees. Additionally, employees are not allowed to strike.
However, SB 939/HB 582 did NOT grant that all jurisdictions would gain collective bargaining by right. Rather, collective bargaining would need to be approved by the local school board after first assessing the desire of the educators.
As such, collective bargaining has begun to pass in progressive jurisdictions. The first two localities to approve collective bargaining were Alexandria and Arlington, both Democratic strongholds.
In 2019, seven of the eight seats on the Prince William County School Board were candidates that Democrats had supported, making collective bargaining likely.
To demonstrate the desire of education the school board must receive signed cards from the majority of all employees that qualify to be included in the “bargaining unit.”
In Prince William County employees passed the first hurdle of gaining signatures on ———-. After concerns about employee privacy, the school board and association came to an agreement to protect employees' identities who had filled out statement cards.
The school board approved allowing collective bargaining in ——- of 2022. Only Jennifer Wall, the Gainesville representative voted against it.
The recent vote decides that the PWEA leadership team will be the bargaining unit for all PWEA employees whether they belong to the association or not. Non-association members would not receive the same personal representation.
“I’m so proud of all that our leadership team has accomplished throughout this campaign. We secured a majority of YES votes to win both our classified and certified employee groups. Our goal has always been to earn an equal seat at the table for all school employees and we did just that,” said PWEA Vice President Brandi Provenzano. “Congratulations to all of my colleagues! We did it!”