General Assembly opens door to collective bargaining with public employees, but only at local level

Thousands of demonstrators rallied for better teacher pay and more public school funding during a January 2018 rally at the Capitol. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

Local governments will be allowed to engage in collective bargaining with their employees under legislation that cleared the General Assembly on Sunday.

The bill falls far short of a proposal pushed by labor unions that the House of Delegates approved last month, which would have mandated both the state and local governments to bargain with employees who organized unions. Virginia is one of three states where collective bargaining with public employees is outlawed.

But lawmakers in the Senate, where Democrats hold a narrower 21-19 majority, said there was not support in the chamber to either allow collective bargaining at the state level or require local governments to engage in the process.

Under a compromise negotiated between the two chambers, lawmakers adopted the Senate’s language, which allowed local governments to vote to authorize bargaining within their jurisdiction.

But they included language pushed by lawmakers in the House which would force local governments to take a vote on the issue within 120 days of receiving notice “from a majority of public employees in a unit considered by such employees to be appropriate for the purposes of collective bargaining.”

Local government associations opposed the legislation, arguing it would drain budgets. Proponents said it would allow employees to better advocate for their workplace interests.

Strikes by public employees remain illegal.