Loudoun County school board allows union recognition with less than 50% of worker vote

Loudoun County school board allows union recognition with less than 50% of worker vote

The president of the Loudoun Education Association previously said a majority vote is “not reasonable.”

Should a teachers union be able to take power with support from less than half of teachers? The Loudoun County School Board has reversed their earlier position and now says they can.

It had been one of the core issues causing tension between the Loudoun school board, which was calling for a majority vote, and leadership within the Loudoun Education Association, which believed they should be able to take power without one.

At a recent school board meeting, the LEA learned about the school district’s previous proposal for how they would work together with teachers and any future union, including the LEA, which they may choose to represent them. The LEA was not happy with this plan laying out the rights, duties and steps for negotiating agreements. President Sandy Sullivan said, “The resolution has many things in it that are nonstarters for us.”

One of Sullivan’s key concerns with the previous collective bargaining resolution had to do with the process of becoming teachers’ exclusive bargaining representative, commonly referred to as “the union.” That resolution called for at least 50% of the employees in the bargaining unit, the workers themselves, to vote and the union to win a majority of that 50% for it to be certified as the exclusive representative.

The Prince William Education Association, one county over, more than met this threshold. This proves it’s not an unreasonable threshold despite Sullivan’s complaints. It is also popular. Recent polling from the Institute for the American Worker found that 84% of Americans believe, before a union is formed, a 50 % quorum of workers should vote in an election with a union winning a majority of those voting. Now, that has been taken away from Loudoun County teachers. “The LEA clearly does not believe in teacher enfranchisement, they want a monopoly to represent all teachers in Loudoun but think it is unreasonable to win an election where at least half the teachers show up.”

Worker enfranchisement was not the only reasonable point on which Sullivan argued. She also complained because the LEA did not have an undue amount of influence, saying the organization was left out of the rulemaking process. In response, Superintendent Aaron Spence pointed out the LEA presented their ideas in June. He said it would be “inappropriate for the school division to allow a party that wants to be the bargaining representative to be part of the initial resolution.”

Letting LEA in on the process would also have opened the door to larger issues as they have not been selected as the bargaining representative for teachers in the county, so any organization looking to be the union would have had a reasonable argument to be included as well to avoid LEA having outsized input. Currently, the Teamsters are bargaining to represent some school divisions in the county and could be selected.

Spence has become superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools in the midst of a firestorm. He took over in September 2023, not only in the midst of collective bargaining but also as his predecessor Scott Ziegler was on trial for – and found guilty of – retaliating against a teacher for speaking out after being inappropriately touched by a student multiple times. Spence quickly announced goals for his first six months, one of which was to review the current state of collective bargaining.

The final vote is imminent, which is also causing consternation. Board Vice Chair Harris Mahedavi has voiced concerns the process has been rushed, and Kris Countryman, a second-grade teacher in the county said the vote needs to wait until the nine newly elected board members take office in January.

“They need to extend their self-imposed December deadline,” Countryman said, “They need to include us in writing the policy and they need to give the new board time to carefully consider what is before them instead of rushing.”

Board Chair Ian Serotkin, however, said this process has already taken more than three years and there is no need to further postpone. “There are nine brand new members-elect who are coming in completely fresh to this,” he said. “If we delay collective bargaining to the next board, that’s going to delay collective bargaining by months and months, if not longer.” The vote remains scheduled for Dec. 12.

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