As the deadline to file all bills and joint resolutions passed on Friday, January 17, several bills await discussion in committee with the potential to significantly change the nature of public employer/employee relationships across the Commonwealth. Some of the most impactful of these bills concern collective bargaining and public employees’ ability to strike.
Collective bargaining is the negotiation process between an employer and a union or association comprised of workers to govern the terms and conditions of the workers’ employment. Public employees and their would-be-representatives are excluded from the National Labor Relations Act and are instead subject to state and local laws governing collective bargaining. The Code of Virginia currently prohibits collective bargaining for public employees in Virginia but does allow them to form associations to promote their interests. Virginia is one of several states that prohibits collective bargaining.
HB 582 (Guzman) and SB 1022 (Boysko) repeal the existing prohibition on collective bargaining by public employees and create the Public Employee Relations Board. This three-member body appointed by the Governor and approved by the General Assembly would be responsible for determining eligible bargaining units and certifications for the elections of employee bargaining representatives. These representatives would then be tasked with negotiating the terms of employment for their members with their public employers. If impasses occur between employers and employee representatives, the disputes would then be subject to arbitration by representatives of the Board. The legislation still determines that striking government employees who willfully refuse to perform their duties will have been deemed to have terminated their employment. This legislation would apply to state and local governments and their employees, with certain exceptions. Interestingly, the legislation exempts employees of the General Assembly from the provisions of the bills.
Two other bills, HB 327 (Levine) and SB 939 (Saslaw), have been filed that do not mandate collective bargaining, but provide state and local governments the options of engaging in collective bargaining if they so choose. SB 939 also potentially authorizes additional advocacy actions beyond what is currently provided for in the Code, for employee organizations in localities that have adopted collective bargaining by ordinance.
Leaving nothing to doubt, HB 67 (Carter) specifically authorizes non-law-enforcement public employees to engage in strikes without having been deemed to have terminated their employment. This would represent a major departure from existing Virginia public employer/employee relations.
In addition to bills specifically impacting public employees and employers, several “Right-to-Work” related bills have been introduced this session. Right-to-Work provides workers with the choice of whether to join a union or employee representative association. Repealing this section of Code, as HB 153 (Carter) does, could allow membership in an union or employee representative association to be a condition of employment. SB 426 (Saslaw) allows employers, after entering into a collective bargaining agreement with a labor union or labor organization, to require certain nonmember employees to pay “fair share fees” to the union or organization as a condition employment.
VACo opposes any effort to mandate collective bargaining for public employees.
VACo Contact: Jeremy R. Bennett