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Richmond School Board votes in support of collective bargaining

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Richmond School Board votes in support of collective bargaining
Posted at 10:40 PM, Dec 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-07 11:36:56-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- In a vote at their Monday night meeting, the Richmond School Board voted in support of collective bargaining — giving teachers and other school employees the right to negotiate their contracts.

The final vote was 8-1, with Vice Chair Jonathan Young being the only board member to vote the measure down.

The resolution is the first to be passed by a school board in the Commonwealth since a new law went into effect that gives localities the right to vote for collective bargaining for its employees.

Outside the meeting, hugs followed as several educators say they are finally being given a seat at the bargaining table.

"If we want to keep our teachers, we want to make sure they have a voice and that's what this is all about," Kenya Gibson, a school board member, said.

Over the past several months, RPS employees have talked about burnout from extended days with limited planning periods and the lack of support staff as several teachers and assistants have resigned.

The stress of teachers' workloads and low pay, both of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic, prompted board members Gibson, Stephanie Rizzi and Shonda Harris-Muhammad to proposed a collective bargaining resolution in October. c

One month later, the board voted to form a committee to explore implementation of a potential resolution.

The new state law that was based in 2020 ended a 44-year ban on collective bargaining for local employees in the state. Despite this, they still don't have the right to strike.

"Even before COVID, teachers were going above and beyond. Reaching into their own pockets, doing whatever they needed to do to make sure their kids were successful and were nurtured and we forget that during COVID, their own families needed that nurturing too but they still went above and beyond," State Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D - Richmond) said.

McClellan attended a rally before Monday’s meeting, organized by the Richmond Education Association, to help bolster support for collective bargaining. The momentum generated at the rally carried into the school board meeting, where several people challenged school board members to vote without delay.

Opponents of the resolution, including Young, said there’s little evidence to support that collective bargaining resolutions improve working conditions, lift morale or help retain teachers in school systems.

Several school board members also raised concerns about the financial impact the resolution will have on the school district and would like a financial analysis performed before the resolution is carried out.