Richmond teachers union and school board continue to clash
Tensions rise as union members fight with school boards in teacher negotiations. The school year is already underway, but Richmond Education Association and the Richmond Public School Board are still working toward a full agreement, with frustration mounting on both sides. Last year, Richmond became the first school district in the state to elect a...
Tensions rise as union members fight with school boards in teacher negotiations.
The school year is already underway, but Richmond Education Association and the Richmond Public School Board are still working toward a full agreement, with frustration mounting on both sides.
Last year, Richmond became the first school district in the state to elect a union representative after Virginia struck down a ban for teacher’s collective bargaining. For union advocates, this felt like a big win. That feeling didn’t last long.
After more than a year of negotiations, the mood has shifted. Despite multiple meetings and proposals, the school board and the REA are no closer to an agreement on fixing the low morale and high attrition rate Richmond Public Schools are experiencing. Educators are finding that, instead of having an ally, they simply have another layer of inefficient bureaucracy standing between themselves and the schools.
It is a perfect example of the inaccuracy of the arguments in favor of collective bargaining. In Richmond and elsewhere in Virginia the new public sector collective bargaining scheme is being sold as simply giving teachers or other public employees a seat at the table. The idea is that through the process of collective bargaining public employees and public employers will come together, sing kumbaya and write a better contract.
Now the reality is coming home, collective bargaining is an adversarial process and one in which management and labor are frequently at odds stoked on by the nature of unions.
Board leader Deborah Michon wants to find ways to support teachers, but is finding it difficult to land on middle ground with the REA representatives. Michon said, “We have tried to work with our REA and Local One and are extremely frustrated that they are not willing to be a part of the solution. They keep wanting more.”
All but one of the Richmond school board members voted to approve REA as the union representative. Jonathan Young, the one dissenting school board member warned, “Respectfully, if anyone thinks that attorneys and/or budget negotiators between them will constitute what will improve culture and morale in RPS, then I’m afraid they will be tragically mistaken.”
In the meantime, collective bargaining frequently ends up with union executives hold too much power instead of that power behind held by people who are accountable to taxpayers.
As the school year began, Richmond Public Schools were still short hundreds of teachers. Richmond Public Schools Board Member Jonathan Young said the district loses almost 500 teachers per year, which is around 22% of their total staff. “Even our empirical data, including exit surveys, demonstrate that the number one reason that persons leave is because they’re being micromanaged,” Young said. Adding another level of bureaucracy can’t solve that, but that’s what a small majority of educators chose – and now all teachers have to live with it.
Collective bargaining can lead to breakdowns in working relationships as well. Recently, the head of United Auto Workers made headlines when he proclaimed “I’m not shaking hands with any CEOs” of the big three auto manufacturers. As Richmond Public Schools prepares for the 2023-24 school year, negotiations between the teachers’ union and the school board are still ongoing. Teachers need to think about all potential outcomes before making a decision.