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Charlottesville schools staff win collective bargaining rights

The Charlottesville School Board has voted unanimously to approve a collective bargaining resolution that covers all Charlottesville City Schools staff.

The Thursday night vote made the city school division the third in Virginia to grant its employees collective bargaining rights. Richmond Public Schools and Arlington Public Schools both won those rights in 2022.

“This is historical, and it’s been a journey,” School Board Member Lisa Larson-Torres said during Thursday’s meeting.

The agreement makes the Charlottesville Education Association’s contract one of the strongest in the state, according to the union itself.

The Charlottesville agreement covers two bargaining units: one that includes licensed school staff – such as teachers, nurses and librarians – and another for school support staff – including cafeteria workers and custodians.

Under the terms of the agreement, those two units can choose two topics to negotiate during the three-year span of the contract from a list including wages, benefits, discipline procedures and health and safety conditions, among others.

The Charlottesville Education Association hasn’t decided yet what topics it wants to negotiate over.

“Pay is always an issue,” union organizer Bekah Saxon told The Daily Progress during Thursday’s meeting. “But we’re also looking at how we get resources to help support students.”

In neighboring Albemarle County, school staff have also moved closer to a collective bargaining agreement of their own.

In February, the Albemarle Education Association made its second bid for collective bargaining rights. Albemarle School Board Chair Katrina Callsen told the county Board of Supervisors on Wednesday to expect a collective bargaining agreement of some kind to pass.

In May 2022, Albemarle County Public Schools 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.

Still, the fight’s not over. Dave Koenig, a teacher at Lugo-McGiness, pushed the school board to make negotiations open to the public. That isn’t the norm, but schools in Chicago, Illinois, and Brookline, Massachusetts, among others, have moved toward open negotiations.

“As we enter this new world, we’ve got to bargain together. Let’s do this the right way for everyone to see,” Koenig told the school board.

School Board Member Jennifer McKeever disagreed.

“I want to see thoughtful, deliberate negotiation,” McKeever said. For her, that means conversations can’t be open in order to build trust.

The collective bargaining agreement also requires funding from the city. School officials said they hadn’t yet determined how much it would cost to implement a resolution.

“The specifics matter,” City Council Member Brian Pinkston told The Daily Progress in February when city schools initially announced support for collective bargaining. “I supported collective bargaining for the city, so I should support it for the city schools.”

But, Pinkston said, “for all this stuff, we’re going to have to look at our total budget.”


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