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Tue. Jun 25th, 2024

Fairfax teachers and school staff support the union in collective bargaining

By meerna Jun12,2024

Teachers and classroom staff Fairfax County, seat from Virginia’s largest school district are one step closer to being able to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement for the first time in nearly 50 years.

School workers voted overwhelmingly for collective bargaining on Monday, and the Fairfax Education Association and the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers united under an alliance group, the Fairfax Education Unions, that will represent more than 27,000 school system employees in labor talks.

Officials say a bargaining team will be formed to determine union contract priorities and begin working with the Fairfax School District on an agreement.

“I’m thrilled and excited about what’s next for the people at FCPS, not only our employees, but also our children,” said Leslie Houston, president of the Fairfax Education Association. “This will change our children’s lives because if their teachers are happy, they will be happy.”

Both Fairfax school unions have been in existence for a long time, but Virginia had previously banned collective bargaining after a 1977 row state Supreme Court decision. This restriction was repealed under a 2020 state law that allowed it local government bodies to conclude collective labor agreements with local trade unions. Since then, unions across the commonwealth have fought for recognition, and agencies have entered into labor agreements for a variety of government workers, including school workers.

Teachers across the region say collective bargaining offers a chance to be more involved in decision-making, secure better pay and improve staff retention.

Fairfax recently the school district dropped proposed salary increases for the 2024-25 school year from 6 percent to 4 percent after receiving about $89 million less from the county than he initially requested. Houston said the contract could limit such activities fluctuation.

David Walrod, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said the election results – in which 96 percent of teaching staff and 80 percent of operations staff voted for the Fairfax Education Unions – show employee excitement.

“We have sent a very clear message that people want change,” Walrod said. “For too long, the district has made decisions without including employees in the discussion.”

Fairfax County School Board Chairman Karl Frisch called an exciting and historic development.

“Collective bargaining will help support staff retention and student success,” Frisch said in a statement. “After all, a teacher’s working conditions are the students’ learning conditions. Everyone wins when teachers and other school staff have a seat at the decision-making table – pay increases, working conditions improve, and turnover becomes less common.”

Virginia’s labor movement has long been weakened under the state’s “right to work” law, which allows workers to opt out of paying union dues even if they are covered by a union contract. In 1977, the state Supreme Court ruled that Virginia lawmakers had not authorized local governments to collectively bargain with public employees. For decades, these decisions left unions to lobby government boards for non-binding agreements and negotiations.

The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers hailed the development as a national victory, noting that FCPS is the ninth-largest school district in the country.

“Whether they are bus drivers or teachers, these educators are committed to their students and their work; they should have had the right to collective bargaining long ago,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement. Becky Pringle, president of the NEA, said: “When we stand united, we can demand powerful change for our schools and students. This is how we earn respect and provide the resources we need to give our students their best.”

Other school districts in Northern Virginia have either approved ordinances laying the groundwork for collective bargaining or are in the process of implementing them. Late last month, Alexandria City Public Schools employees voted to collectively bargain, with the Alexandria Education Association becoming the official bargaining unit.

“Initially, I never thought we would have collective bargaining in the state of Virginia,” he said Dawn Lucas, president of the Alexandria Educational Association. “It was a long process for us; But we persevered.”

Fran Lewandoski, a social worker at Lemon Road Elementary School and a board member of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said in an interview that she hopes for better benefits and a departure, but most of all she’s excited about the opportunity for employees to get a seat on the table.

“It really raises the voices of the rank and file,” Lewandoski said. “It raises the voice of the average worker like me.”

By meerna

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