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Albemarle teachers make second bid for collective bargaining

The union representing Albemarle County teachers and school staff has submitted a second resolution for collective bargaining rights, nine months after the school board denied its first bid.

The Albemarle Education Association presented the resolution at a county school board meeting Thursday night. Roughly 1,300 employees at Albemarle schools have now signed union authorization cards. Dozens showed up on Thursday night to make their case before the school board.

Under Virginia law, the school board now has 120 days to vote on the resolution. Albemarle County School Board Chair Katrina Callsen said the board would take up the resolution for discussion at its Feb. 23 meeting.

“We want a seat at the table. We don’t want scraps from the table,” Melissa Brown, an Albemarle High School teacher, told the board during public comment at Thursday’s meeting.

In May 2022, the Albemarle County School Board voted against a resolution that would have allowed most division employees to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement. At the time, county school board members said the state law allowing collective bargaining did not provide sufficient guidance for how the process would work.

Employees at public schools in Richmond and Arlington have already won the ability to collectively bargain. Last week, Charlottesville City Schools announced its support for a resolution that gives its staff collective bargaining rights. The city school board is expected to vote to adopt the resolution at its March meeting.

Albemarle Education Association President Vernon Liechti said he felt optimistic about the union’s chances of getting a contract.

“We’ve seen it work in other divisions,” Liechti told The Daily Progress before Thursday’s school board meeting. “We’ve been talking with board members, we’ve been educating them and answering questions.”

Liechti said school board members have remained concerned about the process.

“This is a process that we can work on together,” Liechti said. “This is what happened in the city of Charlottesville.”

After denying the first union resolution last year, the Albemarle school board voted to direct Superintendent Matthew Haas to investigate alternatives to collective bargaining and come back with a report in 90 days.

The report resulted in the Employee Voice and Action Committee, an open-enrollment group consisting of school staff, a professional mediator and up to two school board members. The school board members on the committee change based on who is available at the time. Only school staff are voting members of the committee. The committee can ask for changes and make recommendations but lacks bargaining power.

“It provides employees a more structured way to provide feedback on a more consistent basis,” county schools spokesman Phil Giaramita told The Daily Progress before Thursday’s school board meeting.

The committee met for the first time on Jan. 23 and was so productive it decided to meet biweekly, Giaramita said. The group originally planned to meet only monthly.

The committee meeting minutes show that the committee established norms of respect and timeliness and decided to use ranked-choice voting when determining which items to recommend to the school board.

But that’s not enough, said Liechti, Albemarle educators should have the ability to negotiate contracts.

“We want to make sure they have the ability to ratify contracts,” Liechti said. “There is no better way to get employee engagement than to make sure that the people have a say in their working conditions and their benefits and their compensation.”

Albemarle Education Association Vice-President Mary McIntyre said she feels better about the union’s chance this year than she did in May.

“The key word for us now is partnership,” McIntyre told The Daily Progress during Thursday’s meeting. “We are asking to be partners with them, and I think they’re eager for that.”


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