Legal Insider: Virginia Authorizes Public Sector Unions

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

The Commonwealth of Virginia has enacted new legislation, which now allows for public sector unions to bargain for employee rights and their conditions of employment.

On May 1, 2021, Virginia’s new law will take effect. This is a major change. Previously, localities such as counties, cities or towns were not allowed to recognize or negotiate with labor unions or associations representing their public sector employees. This new law will affect all different types of public sector employees, which will vary from locality to locality. Under the new law, the county or city has to authorize labor unions in their jurisdiction for them to exist.

Virginia’s New Labor Union Law

The new law reads as follows:

§ 40.1-57.2. (Effective May 1, 2021) Collective bargaining.

A. No state, county, city, town, or like governmental officer, agent, or governing body is vested with or possesses any authority to recognize any labor union or other employee association as a bargaining agent of any public officers or employees, or to collectively bargain or enter into any collective bargaining contract with any such union or association or its agents with respect to any matter relating to them or their employment or service unless, in the case of a county, city, or town, such authority is provided for or permitted by a local ordinance or by a resolution. Any such ordinance or resolution shall provide for procedures for the certification and decertification of exclusive bargaining representatives, including reasonable public notice and opportunity for labor organizations to intervene in the process for designating an exclusive representative of a bargaining unit. As used in this section, “county, city, or town” includes any local school board, and “public officers or employees” includes employees of a local school board.

What This Means

Collective bargaining had previously existed in a number of Virginia localities, including in the City of Alexandria, until a 1977 Virginia Supreme Court ruling that barred local governments from collective bargaining with their employees. Fairfax and Arlington counties are already studying the effects the unionization will have. Loudoun County is reviewing the new law as well. In addition, in preparation for the new legislation, Alexandria has proposed a public employees collective bargaining ordinance, including police, fire, labor and trades, and general government employees. In general, unions are not available for senior or managerial-level employees.

In sum, the new Virginia law will allow counties, cities and towns the ability to adopt ordinances recognizing labor unions and enter into collective bargaining agreements with them. The new law is not mandatory for local jurisdictions, but it allows them the ability to permit employees to have unions. If such union interest arises, counties, cities or towns must vote to adopt or not adopt an ordinance authorizing them within 120 days of receiving certification from a majority of public employees in an appropriate bargaining unit. The legislation will ultimately affect police officers, teachers, fire and other types of government employees in Virginia.

The legislation shows that the days of Virginia as an anti-union state are numbered, and this is likely the first step in what will be evolving legislation over the coming years broadening the scope of labor unions in this state.

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