Charlottesville City Schools is about to become the third school district in the state to allow its union to collectively bargain.
The school board announced its support for a collective bargaining resolution with its workers at Thursday night’s meeting — to the delight of union leaders.
“It was expected, but delightfully so. Not only were they going to present our resolution to the public today, but also vote in favor of the resolution in March,” said Jessica Taylor, president of the Charlottesville Education Association, at last night’s meeting.
The board is expected to vote on a final resolution at its next meeting in early March.
The proposed contract “will be one of the strongest collective bargaining resolutions in the state,” the union said in a prepared statement on Wednesday. The union did not explain why.
“If the school board passes this resolution, it will set Charlottesville City Schools apart from other divisions, putting words of support for staff into action,” the statement said.
Charlottesville school workers gained support from the school system in April. In the months following, the board played a game of cat and mouse to reach a resolution among members of the union and their respective lawyers.
“I think it’s a really solid resolution,” said Taylor. “I think the fact that it was sticky and complicated and difficult makes it even sweeter. We had to work really hard for it and it feels really good.”
The resolution breaks Charlottesville’s union into two separate bargaining units – one of licensed staff, such as teachers and specialists, and another of school support staff, like custodians and bus drivers.
Each unit may select up to two issues to haggle over with the school board in the next three years — the length of the proposed contract. At the end of that period, the school board can review and decide whether or not to continue or amend the resolution.
Items can range from benefits, discipline procedures, health and safety regulations, hours and wages.
The union will decide what to bargain over once the resolution passes, said Taylor.
Collective bargaining became legal among public workers in Virginia in 2020. However, local governments must grant unions the right to collectively bargain — and few have. Various public work fields — especially school systems — have organized unions to gain support and propose resolutions to their employers.
Before City Schools approves the contract, the City of Charlottesville itself will have to fund the collective bargaining process, or it can’t happen. That discussion has yet to occur.
While elated, the work is far from over, said Taylor. After the School Board recognizes the Charlottesville Education Association as a bargaining unit, the union must hold an election among all workers in the school system to declare them as an official bargaining agent. From there, the CEA can decide which topics they want to officially barter.
In the county, Albemarle County Public School workers are pushing to get their resolution proposal passed. The Albemarle Education Association will submit its second proposal at next week’s Albemarle school board meeting.
The journey toward achieving collective bargaining has been a rough one for Albemarle workers. The Albemarle School Board voted against the union’s initial proposition last August.
Instead, the board constructed an Employee Voice and Action Committee, run by members of human resources, to get opinions and input from employees in the school system with no promise of actual change. The committee held its first meeting in January.
“We understand that the AEA will submit a new resolution this Thursday,” said Phil Giaramita, spokesperson for Albemarle schools. “The board at the time has not recognized the AEA as a bargaining unit.”
Giaramita said the committee serves as a middle ground to allow employees to voice their concerns, complaints or suggestions to the board. The call dropped before Giaramita could elaborate further.
Vernon Liechti, president of the Albemarle union, said last night’s win with Charlottesville injects him with even more hope for getting their proposal passed.
“It’s not just possible in Richmond, it’s not just possible in Arlington,” said Liechti. “It’s possible right next door in Charlottesville.”
Liechti encourages those to attend the next Albemarle School Board meeting Feb. 9 at 6:30 p.m. at the ACPS office building. Members of the Albemarle union, and other supporters, will be gathering in the front until the meeting starts.