First in the Commonwealth, Richmond Votes to Approve Collective Bargaining for Educators
December 7, 2021
December 7, 2021
In a historic moment, the Richmond City School Board voted 8-1 last night in favor of a collective bargaining resolution that will allow educators to collectively negotiate their contracts. It has been over 40 years since Richmond school employees have had the right to bargain their contract—a right educators in the majority of other states already enjoy. Now, the Richmond Education Association (REA) hopes to become the bargaining representative for nearly 4,000 educators.
“It has taken more than a year of patient, grassroots organizing for educators to convince the school board to pass the resolution,” said Dr. James J. Fedderman, president of the Virginia Education Association. “After holding rallies and trainings and collecting authorization cards and petition signatures, the REA successfully persuaded the school board to pass the resolution. We expect to see many other school divisions doing the same next year.”
Collective bargaining, or collective contract negotiations, allows working people—organized in a labor union—to negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment with their employer. In other states, educators have used this right to advocate for smaller class sizes, more planning time, adequate classroom technology, and better wages and benefits, all of which attract better educators to the area. The resolution that was passed last night allows for a contract to be created that could potentially cover all these subjects.
Over the last two months, Richmond Public Schools employees have been attending school board meetings to advocate for contract negotiation rights, some sharing with board members how they work two jobs and haven’t had a raise in 10 years. One teacher explained that her classroom chairs were replaced with uncomfortable, poorly designed stools that tip students out of their seats. Another told the school board that, as a preschool teacher, she is expected to prepare her students’ lunches, but isn’t given time to eat lunch herself, so she spends nine hours at work without eating.
All these stories illustrate what educators have been saying for years: Educators’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions. With the right to collectively negotiate their contracts, educators can work with the school board to find solutions to these problems and create learning environments where all students can thrive.
Of course, this doesn’t automatically mean educators have a contract. In the following months, educators will be required to elect a bargaining representative through a secret ballot election, and will then begin the process of creating their first contract. While there are still many steps to go, the passage of this resolution is a milestone that educators should celebrate.