In the five weeks since submitting a resolution for collective bargaining, the Albemarle Education Association has heard little from the School Board about its proposal, according to the association.
But that resolution appeared on the School Board’s consent agenda Thursday as an information item, and dozens of teachers and community members attended the meeting to support the measure. The agenda was unanimously approved and there was no discussion on the agenda item.
Typically, the board approves consent agenda items listed for information at the following meeting.
The AEA submitted a draft resolution to the School Board in late March, which would given teachers, building-level administrators and support staff members the ability to form unions and start negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the division. About two-thirds of teachers supported unionizing in late March along with 70% of transportation staff and 80% of school nurses, AEA organizers said.
The group, which is part of the Virginia Education Association, would likely represent teachers during contract negotiations or collective bargaining.
Even though the board received the resolution for information, AEA wants to meet with members of the School Board to hammer out specific provisions.
“Having some silence now is causing us a whole lot of angst,” said Bekah Saxon, a local director with the Virginia Education Association who works to support the AEA and other groups in the area. “We want to continue the collaborative relationship we’ve had. … We don’t want this to become hostile or all about the lawyers fighting things out. We really want to be able to solve these problems as they come up.”
By unionizing, school employees have said they hope to gain higher wages and a voice in the decision-making process, among other goals. Teachers, support staff, community members and University of Virginia students spoke in support of collective bargaining during Thursday’s meeting.
“Not paying your your workforce enough to live in the county and to be part of the community is morally reprehensible,” said Emily Yen with the Charlottesville chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.
About 76% of division employees live in Albemarle County or the City of Charlottesville, according to the school system’s recent human resources report. The average pay for Albemarle teachers was $57,775 in the 2020-21 school year, according to state data.
The speakers argued during public comments that collective bargaining will help recruit and retain teachers.
“When teachers are able to speak up on what they need and have a seat at the table in negotiating their contracts, they are more likely to stay on board,” said David Zatyko, a former county teacher and substitute. “Collective bargaining will help promote a workplace environment where teachers are not thrown to the wolves, where they can afford to survive without multiple jobs to better take care of their own families and to have the physical and mental stamina to give their fullest to their students.”
Ella Tynch, a UVa student studying elementary education, said she wants to work in a unionized school system.
“I know a lot of my fellow cohort members don’t want to work here because the pay is so low,” she said. “They realized that teachers are not respected as they should be, and they are moving to other cities. You are losing students who are in your own community and being trained through one of the best education programs in the country.”
The School Board has 120 days to respond to AEA’s proposal under a state law that went in effect May 1, 2021. The board does not have to approve a resolution by the July 22 deadline. So far, no one has publicly spoken against the resolution.
Albemarle teachers and their supporters have urged the board to move quickly to adopt a resolution and start negotiating a contract.
Melissa Brown, an Albemarle teacher, said that she didn’t think educators were being unreasonable in asking for collective bargaining rights.
“We’re not asking for the sun, moon and stars,” Brown said. “We’re asking to be treated like professionals. We’re asking to be a partner with you. … I am begging you to do this for the future of this county and for the future of the students.”
At the April 14 board meeting, AEA president Vernon Liechti called for the School Board to form a task force with the education association to work on the resolution. No board member publicly discussed that request at the meeting.
On Thursday, board members didn’t comment on the resolution before print deadline.