Top 10 frequently asked questions from local leaders on Virginia’s public sector collective bargaining law

Top 10 frequently asked questions from local leaders on Virginia’s public sector collective bargaining law

In 2020 the Virginia Assembly passed SB. 939, permitting local governments to pass ordinances or resolutions allowing public sector collective bargaining.

There are many questions regarding the law. This list answers the top 10 most frequently asked:

  1. Do Virginia’s local governments need to allow public sector collective bargaining because of the state law?

No. SB. 939 lets local governments choose to bargain. There’s nothing requiring a local government to pass a resolution or ordinance allowing public sector bargaining.

  1. Who is covered under Virginia’s collective bargaining law?

The law applies to employees of counties, cities, towns and local school boards.

The law does not apply to private sector employees, who are governed by federal law. The law also exempts certain public employees including treasurers, sheriffs, attorneys for the commonwealth, clerks of deeds, commissioners of revenue and their employees, specifically “officer[s] elected pursuant to Article VII, Section 4 of the Constitution of Virginia.”

  1. What does Virginia’s collective bargaining law do?

As of May 1, 2021, local governments in Virginia can allow public sector collective bargaining by passing an ordinance or resolution. A majority of public employees can ask elected officials to vote on such a resolution, but the officials can decline and continue to operate without public sector bargaining.

  1. Does the law make government unions legal in Virginia?

No, government unions were always legal in Virginia. The new law lets local governments bargain with them if the locality passes an ordinance or resolution.

  1. Does the collective bargaining law mandate bargaining issues?

No, there are no mandates in the law about bargaining topics.

The only requirement SB 939 establishes is a procedure allowing employees to form or remove a union.

  1. Can Virginia local governments limit government unions’ bargaining issues?

Yes, local elected officials can significantly limit bargaining topics. For example, one collective bargaining law outside Virginia limits bargaining to wages – and further limits that to inflation – without a voter referendum. If a Virginia local government allows collective bargaining, they could do something similar or further limit bargaining to just, for instance, negotiating about public employee parking spaces.

  1. Are there state laws that impact the collective bargaining law?

Yes, strikes are prohibited under state law. Further, public employees’ right to vote by secret ballot in union organizing elections is protected. Virginia’s open meeting act will also likely make some bargaining sessions open to the public. Other issues such as teacher grievance procedures, dismissal and local school boards having final approval over employment and personnel supervision may impact bargaining subjects. Additionally, school boards likely can’t approve contracts beyond the funding period, which may limit the length of contracts.  Local attorneys should be consulted on the interplay between state law and local collective bargaining agreements.

  1. Will local governments need to create infrastructure to accommodate collective bargaining?

Yes. If a local government allows collective bargaining, it must prepare for increased administration costs. This includes establishing procedures, creating positions and entities and allocating funds.

Local governments will need to determine how to: administer union organizing elections and create positions or a board to carry out the elections; bargain and add staff to negotiate with the union; resolve negotiation impasses plus incorporate the cost of mediators or arbitrators; and account for the increased cost for resolving union grievances.

The city of Alexandria expects these costs to range from $500,000 to $1,000,000 a year, depending on the scope of bargaining.

  1. Will government unions have a monopoly over the employees they represent if they are allowed to bargain?

The bargaining law says government unions may have exclusive representation, meaning they will represent all the public employees, even if those employees do not want union representation. This will only be allowed if the local government passes a resolution allowing collective bargaining and lets unions be the exclusive representative for all employees.

  1. Will local governments need to bargain with government unions if they pass a resolution and a union organizes employees?

Yes, if a local government allows public sector bargaining and a union organizes the employees, they will be required to bargain with that union.

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