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Virginia’s Public Employees Launch Fight For Collective Bargaining

Karen Conchar, an engineer for the City of Fairfax, advocated for repealing Virginia's ban on public sector collective bargaining Thursday. (Roberto Roldan/VPM)
Karen Conchar, an engineer for the City of Fairfax, advocated for repealing Virginia's ban on public sector collective bargaining Thursday. (Roberto Roldan/VPM)

Virginia is one of only three states that have a blanket ban on collective bargaining for all public sector employees. Teachers, firefighters and other public employees are asking the General Assembly to change that.

The fight for public sector collective bargaining is being led by “Stronger Communities. A Better Bargain.” It’s a coalition of public sector unions, including everyone from the Virginia Education Association to the Communications Workers of America. The new coalition was announced at a press conference at the General Assembly building on Thursday.

Karen Conchar, an engineer for the City of Fairfax, said allowing public employees to do things like negotiate wages and working conditions is critical to the success of schools and other services.

“With freedom to collective bargain, we could use our frontline expertise to have a real voice at the table and recommend the resources to serve our communities better,” Conchar said. “We could fight for our families and for our communities.”

The right to bargain collectively is one of a number of pro-labor legislation being proposed this year. Bills have been filed to raise the minimum wage incrementally to $15 per hour and to mandate paid family and medical leave.

Republicans and business groups are opposing these bills, saying they would harm Virginia’s reputation as a business-friendly environment. 

So far, few high profile Democrats have come out in support for the collective bargaining bill sponsored by Delegate Elizabeth Guzman (D-Woodbridge). 

Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy (D-Woodbridge) recently signed on to co-sponsor the bill. Carroll Foy said Virginia’s ban on collective bargaining negatively impacts public employees.

“I think it is outrageous that Virginia hasn’t taken this common sense step to allow public sector employees to collectively bargain and negotiate for better pay, job protections and safety,” she said. 

Delegate Lee Carter (D-Manassas) has also introduced legislation that would repeal Virginia’s right-to-work law, which bars unions from requiring non-members to pay dues even if they benefit from a negotiated contract.