Fairfax County Public School workers secure collective bargaining rights

Members of the Alliance of Fairfax Education Unions and supporters celebrate the Fairfax County School Board’s approval of collective bargaining (courtesy David Walrod)

The Fairfax County School Board voted unanimously on Thursday (Mar. 9) to give public school teachers and staff collective bargaining rights.

The resolution gives employees the right to organize and elect a union that can negotiate labor contracts, including pay, benefits and work conditions.

The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation in 2020 allowing local governments to give collective bargaining rights to public workers. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution for county employees the following year.

After more than a year of work, administrators with Fairfax County Public Schools presented a 22-page draft resolution to the school board in December.

Karl Frisch, the school board’s Providence District representative, introduced the motion during a school board meeting, saying collective bargaining will positively affect staff retention and student success.

“Everyone wins when teachers and staff have pay increases, better working conditions, reduced turnover, and workers have a seat at the decision-making table,” Frisch said.

The resolution states that the school board retains the right to determine budgets and can take necessary actions to carry out its mission during emergencies. It also guarantees workers the right “to engage in informal conversations and interactions about workplace and organizational issues while on duty” without facing coercion or intimidation.

According to Virginia law, bargaining unit members are not allowed to go on strike.

Any negotiations with budgetary or financial implications need to be initiated by Sept. 1 and agreed upon by Nov. 1 to be included in the following year’s budget.

FCPS will recognize separate bargaining units for:

  • Licensed instructional staff, including full and part-time teachers, librarians and counselors
  • Operational support employees, such as assistants, custodians, food service workers and bus drivers
  • Administrators and supervisors, including principals and program administrators

Through a majority vote, employees in the bargaining units can select an employee association to represent them. The association, with majority support, becomes that unit’s exclusive bargaining agent after the school board certifies the election results.

Substitute teachers and temporary employees are excluded from bargaining units. However, they could request to be recognized as a unit or seek inclusion in one of the existing units after July 1, 2023.

During his remarks, Frisch highlighted what he said are the causes of recent staffing challenges faced by the school system.

“Longstanding teacher and school staff shortages are driven by low pay relative to peers in other professions with similar credentials, inadequate or uneven professional support, and challenging work conditions.”

Sully District representative Stella Pekarsky seconded the motion and said because of the vote,  schools in the county will be a better place to learn and work in the coming years.

“With this vote, there should be no doubt where FCPS stands. We stand for our employees to have a voice and a seat at the table. We stand to ensure our schools can recruit and retain staff who provide a world-class education for all students,” she said.

In a release, Fairfax Education Association President Leslie Houston said passing the resolution is the first step to ensuring that FCPS employees “will have a seat at the table and not be on the menu.”

“The educators and staff in Fairfax County Public Schools will finally be able to make decisions that is best for their well-being and the well-being of their students,” Houston said.

While advocating for collective bargaining, the FEA joined forces with the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT) to form the Alliance of Fairfax Educational Unions (AFEU), which will presumably seek election to represent the new bargaining units.

According to the school system, FCPS will secure a labor relations administrator (LRA) in the next few weeks to manage the certification and election processes.

Read more on FFXnow…

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