IW opposed to collective bargaining

Published 5:13 pm Tuesday, July 6, 2021

A May 1 change in state law has ended Virginia’s 1993 ban on public sector employees bargaining collectively with their local governments.

The law now affords county, city, town and public school employees the right to negotiate pay and working conditions with their employers as an exclusive union — provided the locality adopts an ordinance or resolution permitting the bargaining process.

The city of Alexandria became Virginia’s first locality to take advantage of the new law — passing an ordinance in April allowing collective bargaining in anticipation of the then-upcoming changes to the state code. But Isle of Wight County’s Board of Supervisors is presently leaning in the opposite direction.

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At the Board’s June work session, Board Chairman and Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice said he’d like to see the county adopt an ordinance or resolution explicitly prohibiting Isle of Wight’s administration from negotiating with unionized groups of county employees.

“Having worked in industries where there were union employees, large numbers of union employees … I would move, quite seriously, to seeing a draft of a referendum, or not a referendum but a policy, that we do not do collective bargaining, period,” Grice said.

“We’re a right-to-work state; I don’t see the benefits of collective bargaining,” Carrsville District Supervisor and Vice Chairman Don Rosie agreed, as did Newport District Supervisor William McCarty.

Right-to-work states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, prohibit workers from being compelled to join a labor union as a condition of their employment. Currently, 27 states have right-to-work laws on their books.

Even if Isle of Wight were to opt into collective bargaining, not all county employees would be eligible. The changes to state law still exclude employees of constitutional officers such as the sheriff, treasurer and commissioner of the revenue. According to County Attorney Bobby Jones, striking by public sector employees also remains prohibited.

“If collective bargaining is authorized and an employee went out on strike, by statute, that employee is terminated,” Jones said. “It’s not a question of, ‘Do we want to?’ … and further, he or she is prohibited from being employed by the state or any locality for 12 months.”

The policy Grice is proposing wouldn’t prevent a group of county employees from forming a union, but would keep the county from recognizing that union during contract negotiations as that group’s exclusive representative, Jones said.

Professional firefighters, he pointed out, already have the option of joining a union. The Virginia Professional Fire Fighters, according to its website, is an association of local unions representing over 8,000 International Association of Fire Fighters members across Virginia.

“Not belonging to the union, my understanding is … I think primarily it’s about lobbying for the safety of firefighters,” said Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree, who served as chief of Carrollton’s Volunteer Fire Department from 1996 to 2016.

According to Lynn Briggs, spokeswoman for Isle of Wight County Schools, the School Board will need to make its own decision on whether to allow or prohibit collective bargaining should a union representing a class of school employees, such as teachers, form.