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Virginia to Allow Unions

By John V. Berry, www.berrylegal.com

Virginia finally has passed new legislation that allows for public sector unions that can bargain for employee rights, their conditions of employment and enter into collective bargaining agreements. On May 1, 2021, Virginia’s new law, Virginia Code § 40.1-57.2, will take effect. This law completely changes the union movement in Virginia for public sector employees. Prior to the new law, counties, cities or towns were not allowed to recognize or negotiate with labor unions or associations representing their public sector employees. This new legislation will affect all types of public sector employees. Under the new law, the county or city has to authorize labor unions in their jurisdiction for them to exist.   

The New Union Labor Law in Virginia

The new Virginia law reads as follows:

VA Code § 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 resolutionAny 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 the New Law Means

Collective bargaining for public sector employees had previously existed in a number of Virginia jurisdictions until a 1977 Virginia Supreme Court ruling in Commonwealth v. Arlington County, 217 Va. 558 (1977) which prohibited local governments from collective bargaining with unions. It appears that Fairfax, Arlington and Loudoun Counties are already studying the effects that the unionization will have. Additionally, 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 will not be available for senior or managerial-level employees

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, but allows localities 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 enable police officers, teachers, fire personnel and other types of government employees in Virginia to unionize.

The legislation shows that the days of Virginia is the first step in what will be evolving legislation over the coming years further broadening the scope of labor unions in this state.

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