A handful of teachers conveyed their strong backing for collective bargaining at Thursday night’s Charlottesville School Board meeting. 

The Charlottesville Education Association reached a supermajority among City School employees on Tuesday. With supportive claps from the audience, Jessica Taylor, the association’s president, submitted a petition to be granted collective bargaining status to the board Thursday at Charlottesville High School’s Booker T. Reaves Media Center.

The school board now has 120 days to decide if it will allow the union to operate as a negotiating agent for employees in the district.

Teachers involved in the union say they deserve to have that right.

Jenn Horne, an English teacher at Charlottesville High School and mother, emphasized to board members the imperative role teachers have in uplifting students and creating a nurturing environment. She’s frustrated, she said, as a teacher to not have a voice in the things that impact her and her colleagues the most.

“Why must an education professional move out of the classroom, out of the teaching profession, in order to make decisions that guide that profession?” Horne said passionately.

Several board members expressed support for participating in talks of the union gaining collective bargaining power but stopped short of saying they will grant the union collective bargaining status.

Jennifer McKeever, a school board member, implored the rest of the board to act as a body to settle on a resolution for the school in the coming weeks.

“I’m hoping we can have a next step coming out of this meeting,” McKeever said.

But later in the meeting, following spirited debates on whether the district should lift its mask mandate for teachers, board member Lashundra Bryson Morsberger noted the need for collective bargaining in making such a decision.

“My biggest concern is that we didn’t hear from anyone that we needed to change it and I didn’t hear from teachers since they would be impacted,” Bryson Morsberger said. “Tonight was a good show of why we need collective bargaining.”

City School teachers began their efforts to form the union in May 2021 when a new law went into effect that gave public workers in Virginia the power to partake in collective bargaining — or negotiate contracts and wages, and create unions.

Before a union can enter a collective bargaining agreement with its governing body, several things have to happen. 

First, a union must be formed to serve all workers in a certain sector. Then, a “supermajority” of workers must give the union written permission to represent them in contract negotiations. Once a supermajority is reached, the union must be recognized by the governing body (in this case, the school board) before it can begin haggling contracts. 

If the Charlottesville School Board approves of the new union, it could begin that process for the upcoming 2022/2023 school year. 

The Albemarle Education Association reached a supermajority for its workers last month. The Albemarle School Board has until the end of July to decide if it will accept that union.

The Charlottesville Education Association, which is a part of the larger Virginia Education Association, has been garnering support since January, David Koenig, a history teacher at Lugo-McGinness Academy who is also a union organizer, told Charlottesville Tomorrow. Organizers attended faculty meetings and surveyed workers to get an idea of what to barter later on.

“Right now teachers are leaving this profession at an alarming rate, and there are tons of reasons why,” said Rae Regan, a CEA organizer and reading specialist at Walker Upper Elementary School. “But, I feel like what I hear from teachers the most is that the people making decisions about education are not educators.” 

The Charlottesville and Albemarle schools are among some of the first unions to move forward with collective bargaining since state law gave public employees that right last year. The Richmond Education Association gained support from the Richmond School Board to negotiate contracts in December of 2021. 

Other local public sector workers are not as advanced as educators in the push for collective bargaining. Charlottesville Area Transit workers, for instance, are stalled in their efforts to be recognized by the city. 

The city government must first pass an ordinance that details the guidelines for negotiating for all city workers. The city hired a consulting firm to handle the ordinance, after turning down a version drafted by Amalgamated Transit Union and area firefighters in March, but has yet to make movements since, said Matthew Ray, one of the key leaders for bus drivers.

“The delays have done nothing but hurt us,” Ray said. “We’ve been at a stop for several months.”

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Tamica Jean-Charles

I'm Charlottesville Tomorrow's education and families reporter. Reach out to me by email or on Twitter. Also, subscribe to our newsletter! C’mon, it’s free.